Evolutionary dynamics of male reproductive genes in the drosophila virilis subgroup

Yasir H. Ahmed-Braimah, Robert L. Unckless, Andrew G. Clark

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Postcopulatory sexual selection (PCSS) is a potent evolutionary force that can drive rapid changes of reproductive genes within species, and thus has the potential to generate reproductive incompatibilities between species. Male seminal fluid proteins (SFPs) are major players in postmating interactions, and are important targets of PCSS in males. The virilis subgroup of Drosophila exhibits strong interspecific gametic incompatibilities, and can serve as a model to study the genetic basis of PCSS and gametic isolation. However, reproductive genes in this group have not been characterized. Here we utilize short-read RNA sequencing of male reproductive organs to examine the evolutionary dynamics of reproductive genes in members of the virilis subgroup: D. americana, D. lummei, D. novamexicana, and D. virilis. We find that the majority of male reproductive transcripts are testes-biased, accounting for ~15% of all annotated genes. Ejaculatory bulb (EB)-biased transcripts largely code for lipid metabolic enzymes, and contain orthologs of the D. melanogaster EB protein, Peb-me, which is involved in mating-plug formation. In addition, we identify 71 candidate SFPs, and show that this gene set has the highest rate of nonsynonymous codon substitution relative to testes- and EB-biased genes. Furthermore, we identify orthologs of 35 D. melanogaster SFPs that have conserved accessory gland expression in the virilis group. Finally, we show that several of the SFPs that have the highest rate of nonsynonymous codon substitution reside on chromosomal regions, which contributes to paternal gametic incompatibility between species. Our results show that SFPs rapidly diversify in the virilis group, and suggest that they likely play a role in PCSS and/or gametic isolation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3145-3155
Number of pages11
JournalG3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Accessory glands
  • Ejaculatory bulb
  • RNA-seq
  • Seminal fluid proteins
  • Testes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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