Hominoid seminal protein evolution and ancestral mating behavior

Sarah J. Carnahan, Michael I. Jensen-Seaman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Hominoid mating systems show extensive variation among species. The degree of sexual dimorphism in body size and canine size varies among primates in accordance with their mating system, as does the testes size and the consistency of ejaculated semen, in response to differing levels of sperm competition. To investigate patterns of evolution at hominoid seminal proteins and to make inferences regarding the mating systems of extinct taxa, we sequenced the entire coding region of the prostate-specific transglutaminase (TGM4) gene in human, chimpanzee, bonobo, western lowland gorilla, eastern lowland gorilla, orangutan, and siamang, including multiple humans, chimps, and gorillas. Partial DNA sequence of the coding regions was also obtained for one eastern lowland gorilla at the semenogelin genes (SEMG1 and SEMG2), which code for the predominant proteins in semen. Patterns of nucleotide variation and inferred protein sequence change were evaluated within and between species. Combining the present data with previous studies demonstrates a high rate of amino acid substitutions, and low intraspecific variation, at seminal proteins in Pan, presumably driven by strong sperm competition. Both gorilla species apparently possess nonfunctional TGM4, SEMG1, and SEMG2 genes, suggesting that gorillas have had low sperm competition, and therefore their current polygynous mating system, for a long time before their divergence. Similarly, orangutans show longstanding stasis at TGM4, which may be interpreted as evidence for an unchanging mating system for most of their evolution after their divergence from African apes. In contrast to the great apes, the data from humans could be interpreted as evidence of fluctuations between different mating systems or alternatively as a relaxed functional constraint in these proteins. It is our hope that this study is a first step toward developing a model to predict ancestral mating systems from extant molecular data to complement interpretations from the fossil record.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)939-948
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican journal of primatology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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