The sperm factor: paternal impact beyond genes

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The fact that sperm carry more than the paternal DNA has only been discovered just over a decade ago. With this discovery, the idea that the paternal condition may have direct implications for the fitness of the offspring had to be revisited. While this idea is still highly debated, empirical evidence for paternal effects is accumulating. Male condition not only affects male fertility but also offspring early development and performance later in life. Several factors have been identified as possible carriers of non-genetic information, but we still know little about their origin and function and even less about their causation. I consider four possible non-mutually exclusive adaptive and non-adaptive explanations for the existence of paternal effects in an evolutionary context. In addition, I provide a brief overview of the main non-genetic components found in sperm including DNA methylation, chromatin modifications, RNAs and proteins. I discuss their putative functions and present currently available examples for their role in transferring non-genetic information from the father to the offspring. Finally, I identify some of the most important open questions and present possible future research avenues.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)239–247
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jun 2018

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