Selection in the rapid evolution of gamete recognition proteins in marine invertebrates.
Sea urchins of the genus Arbacia (order Stirodonta) have discontinuous allopatric distributions ranging over thousands of kilometers. Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences were used to reconstruct phylogenetic relationships of four Arbacia species and their geographic populations. There is little evidence of genetic structuring of populations within species, except in two cases at range extremes. The mtDNA sequence differentiation between species suggests that divergence occurred about 4-9 MYA. Gene sequences encoding the sperm protein bindin and its intron were obtained and compared with the mtDNA phylogeny. Sea urchins among the well-studied echinoid order Camarodonta, with degrees of mtDNA divergence similar to those of Arbacia species, are known to have remarkable variation in bindin. However, in Arbacia, little variation in deduced amino acid sequences of bindin was found, indicating that purifying selection acts on the protein. In contrast, bindin intron sequences showed much differentiation, including numerous insertion/deletions. Fertilization experiments performed between a divergent pair of Arbacia species from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans revealed no evidence of blocks to gamete recognition. In Arbacia, fertilization specificities may have evolved relatively slowly as a result of extensive gene flow within species, greater functional constraint on the bindin polypeptide, or reduced selective pressure for species recognition in singly occurring species.