Horny salamander uses genes from three mating partners

Yes. It seems that a certain species of salamander is quite promiscuous. This blog seems to have taken a weird turn, I agree. Bear with me, this is quite an interesting one.


A study has found that a unique all-female lineage of salamander equally balances genes from the males of three other salamander species. The findings highlight the bizarre ways some animals reproduce in order to preserve their species.

Genetic variation. The key to a species’ sustainability and survival. The all-female salamander hybrid Ambystoma takes this to the extreme, perhaps, her genetic path to success being one of simplicity: mate with multiple males and distribute the genetic material of each to her progeny equally.

A team of biologists, led by the University of Iowa, analysed the genome of Ambystoma, a six million year old salamander lineage that produces only female offspring. They found that the majority of its genetic material is made up of equal contributions from three different male salamander species: Ambystoma laterale, Ambystoma texanum and Ambystoma tigrinum.

The research team suggest that the findings highlight the astounding routes that some species take in order to maximise their chances of success. Associate Professor in Biology at the UI, Maurine Neiman – an author on the paper published in Genome Biology and Evolution, added “this balance might have been a prerequisite for the emergence and continued success of this particular hybrid lineage.”

Not only is she promiscuous, it seems, but the hybrid salamander is also a thief. Sexual reproduction is dominant, compulsory in the animal world. The unisexual Ambystoma salamander engages in sex, though with different intent. The female acquires the male’s genes, only to keep a select few and discard others. The theft of genetic material from male donors for the purpose of reproduction is known as kleptogenesis.


evx059f2

The proportion of differentially expressed genes within the specimen’s set of 2,998 genes. Credit: Gibbs et al., 2017


The research team were intrigued by how choosy the salamander is about the genes she decides to keep and use from the different male salamander species’. Study co-author and biologist at Ohio State University, H. Lisle Gibbs, provided a specimen for study and the team analysed almost 3,000 genes in a unisexual female triploid (an organism with three genomes). Of the 3,000 genes, it was found that 72% of the genes that were provided by the three male partners were expressed in equal amounts. Essentially, the all-female salamander chooses to utilise the same amount of genes from each salamander species.

“It’s mostly balanced. The three genomes are mostly being expressed equally in this hybrid,” says Kyle McElroy, a graduate student in Neiman’s lab and co-author on the paper. He added: “what we’d like to find out is how the choosing and using occurs, and how these genes from different sexual salamander species come together to make a successful hybrid.”

It seems that rather than the individual selection of genes from the thousands she can choose from (an extremely complex process), the salamander appears to have found a balanced ratio of genes from her three-species erm, activities, that works for her. She seems to have settled on that.

Intriguing, no?


Journal reference:

Kyle E. McElroy, Robert D. Denton, Joel Sharbrough, Laura Bankers, Maurine Neiman, H. Lisle Gibbs (2017) Genome Expression Balance in a Triploid Trihybrid Vertebrate. Genome Biol Evol. 9(4): 968-980. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evx059

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