Rapid genome shrinkage in a self-fertile nematode reveals sperm competition proteins

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To reveal impacts of sexual mode on genome content, we compared chromosome-scale assemblies of the outcrossing nematode Caenorhabditis nigoni to its self-fertile sibling species, C. briggsae. C. nigoni’s genome resembles that of outcrossing relatives but encodes 31% more protein-coding genes than C. briggsae. C. nigoni genes lacking C. briggsae orthologs were disproportionately small and male-biased in expression. These include the male secreted short (mss) gene family, which encodes sperm surface glycoproteins conserved only in outcrossing species. Sperm from mss-null males of outcrossing C. remanei failed to compete with wild-type sperm, despite normal fertility in noncompetitive mating. Restoring mss to C. briggsae males was sufficient to enhance sperm competitiveness. Thus, sex has a pervasive influence on genome content that can be used to identify sperm competition factors.

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