What are “sperm genes” in passerine birds?
Spermatozoa are among the most rapidly diversifying cell types currently known. This diversification occurs despite the conserved and integral role in fertilisation spermatozoa play. The rapid diversification of sperm has important implications for reproduction, fertility, reproductive isolation and the formation of new species, and may form reproductive barriers between closely related species.
In passerine birds, sperm are helical and consist of three components: the head that contains the acrosome and nucleus, the midpiece, which houses fused mitochondria, and the tail. Although passerine sperm conforms to this plan, there is a marked variation in the relative lengths and shape of components across species. For example, total sperm length ranges between 40µm and 300µm. Although, sperm morphology is expected to influence the outcome of sperm competition, fertility, reproductive isolation and sexual selection, the mechanisms underlying variation in sperm morphology are unknown. To understand these mechanisms, one must first identify ‘sperm genes’ and explore how they differ across species. This project will use bioinformatic techniques, which are quickly becoming an invaluable tool for biologists, to find ‘sperm genes’.
Project: This project will primarily be computer based and will use available resources from the research group and online repositories. There may be the possibility of being involved in lab work for DNA extraction and sequencing efforts.
Arild Johnsen, Jan T. Lifjeld, Erica Leder, and Emma Whittington