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Tracking sperm of a donor in a recipient: an immunocytochemical approach

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In order to study the mechanisms of sperm competition and cryptic female choice we require an understanding of the patterns of sperm storage, sperm removal and sperm digestion. Current studies infer these patterns mainly from paternity data, which only reveal the ultimate outcomes of the interactions between male and female reproductive processes. However, only with a mechanistic understanding of the fate of received sperm, and the involved patterns of postcopulatory sexual selection, can we understand the evolution of male and female reproductive morphology and physiology. The currently available approaches for tracking donor sperm in a recipient are either very time consuming, spatially imprecise or limited to model organisms for which considerable genetic knowledge and molecular know-how is available. Using the free-living flatworm Macrostomum lignano we here present a novel sperm tracking approach that uses DNA-labelling with a halogenated pyrimidine and localisation of the label using immunocytochemistry. We first outline modifications to established protocols to allow visualisation of gametic cells, in addition to somatic cells, determine the duration and patterns of spermatogenesis, and then show that labelled sperm from labelled donors can be observed in unlabelled recipients. We further show that labelled worms have a mating behaviour that is comparable to that of unlabelled worms except in one parameter. We suggest ways in which this approach can be optimised, and that it should be readily transferable to other taxa. We conclude that this approach will be a valuable tool to study postcopulatory sexual selection.

Affiliations: 1: Division of Ultrastructural Research and Evolutionary Biology, Institute of Zoology, University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria


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