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Ubiquitin tag for sperm mitochondria


Like other mammals, humans inherit mitochondria from the mother only, even though the sperm contributes nearly one hundred mitochondria to the fertilized egg. In support of the idea that this strictly maternal inheritance of mitochondrial DNA arises from the selective destruction of sperm mitochondria1,2, we show here that sperm mitochondria inside fertilized cow and monkey eggs are tagged by the recycling marker protein ubiquitin3. This imprint is a death sentence that is written during spermatogenesis and executed after the sperm mitochondria encounter the egg's cytoplasmic destruction machinery.

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Figure 1: Ubiquitination of sperm mitochondria in mammalian zygotes and embryos.


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Correspondence to Gerald Schatten.

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Sutovsky, P., Moreno, R., Ramalho-Santos, J. et al. Ubiquitin tag for sperm mitochondria. Nature 402, 371–372 (1999).

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