Male worm’s sperm causes female to die after giving birth, Princeton researchers report

December 23, 2013
Sex kills a worm mother

Study Hall presents recent studies as described by researchers and their institutions. This report is from Princeton University.

The presence of male sperm and seminal fluid causes female worms to shrivel and die after giving birth. The demise of the female after delivering hundreds of progeny appears to benefit the male worm by removing her from the mating pool for other males.

The researchers found that male sperm and seminal fluid trigger pathways that cause females to dehydrate, prematurely age and die. “Their life spans are cut by about a third to a half,” said senior author Coleen Murphy, an associate professor of molecular biology.

Shortened female life spans following mating have been observed before for roundworms, but the study is the first to document the body shrinkage and identify the underlying biological pathways, Murphy said.

“The fact that sex essentially kills the mothers after they have produced the males’ progeny has never been reported before and is shocking to most people who hear this story for the first time, including researchers who study these worms,” Murphy said.

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