Sperm cyst “looping”: A developmental novelty enabling extreme male ornament evolution

Zeeshan A. Syed, Romano Dallai, Negar Nasirzadeh, Julie A. Brill, Patrick M. O’grady, Siyuan Cong, Ethan M. Leef, Sarah Rice, Amaar Asif, Stephanie Nguyen, Matthew M. Hansen, Steve Dorus, Scott Pitnick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Postcopulatory sexual selection is credited as a principal force behind the rapid evolution of reproductive characters, often generating a pattern of correlated evolution between interacting, sex-specific traits. Because the female reproductive tract is the selective environment for sperm, one taxonomically widespread example of this pattern is the co-diversification of sperm length and female sperm-storage organ dimension. In Drosophila, having testes that are longer than the sperm they manufacture was believed to be a universal physiological constraint. Further, the energetic and time costs of developing long testes have been credited with underlying the steep evolutionary al-lometry of sperm length and constraining sperm length evolution in Drosophila. Here, we report on the discovery of a novel spermatogenic mechanism—sperm cyst looping—that enables males to produce relatively long sperm in short testis. This phenomenon (restricted to members of the saltans and willistoni species groups) begins early during spermatogenesis and is potentially attributable to heterochronic evolution, resulting in growth asynchrony between spermatid tails and the sur-rounding spermatid and somatic cyst cell membranes. By removing the allometric constraint on sperm length, this evolutionary innovation appears to have enabled males to evolve extremely long sperm for their body mass while evading delays in reproductive maturation time. On the other hand, sperm cyst looping was found to exact a cost by requiring greater total energetic investment in testes and a pronounced reduction in male lifespan. We speculate on the ecological selection pressures underlying the evolutionary origin and maintenance of this unique adaptation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2762
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2021


  • Energetic constraint
  • Female reproductive tract
  • Heterochrony
  • Life-history
  • Postcopulatory sexual selection
  • Saltans
  • Spermatogenesis
  • Trait diversification
  • Willistoni

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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