Postmating Female Control: 20 Years of Cryptic Female Choice
Most male mammals produce far more spermatozoa on a daily basis than is strictly necessary for reproduction and females have evolved mechanisms that prevent all but a small minority from reaching the vicinity of their oocytes. One potential explanation for the stringent selection is that females have developed these mechanisms as a way of avoiding polyspermy as well as exercising post-copulatory choice over the characteristics of the fertilizing spermatozoon. Relatively little is known about how these processes would operate, but here we use evidence from biochemical, molecular and genetic studies of sperm transport in support of a hypothesis proposing that the female reproductive tract can read and interpret a spermatozoon's 'molecular passport' or genetic signature. Such a signature would permit only a highly selected sperm population to reach and fertilize the oocyte. Moreover, the selection criteria might not only be concerned with successful fertilizing ability, but could also be tailored to suit the genetic qualities of individual females.