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Sexual reproduction is almost universal in eukaryotic life and involves the fusion of male and female haploid gametes into a diploid cell. The sperm-restricted single-pass transmembrane protein HAP2-GCS1 has been postulated to function in membrane merger. Its presence in the major eukaryotic taxa-animals, plants, and protists (including important human pathogens like Plasmodium)-suggests that many eukaryotic organisms share a common gamete fusion mechanism. Here, we report combined bioinformatic, biochemical, mutational, and X-ray crystallographic studies on the unicellular alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii HAP2 that reveal homology to class II viral??membrane fusion proteins. We further show that targeting the segment corresponding to the fusion loop by mutagenesis or by antibodies blocks??gamete??fusion. These results demonstrate that HAP2 is the gamete fusogen and suggest a mechanism of action akin to viral fusion, indicating a way to block Plasmodium transmission and highlighting the impact of virus-cell genetic exchanges on the evolution of eukaryotic life.

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There are different ways of producing progeny. In eukaryotes, the most widespread method is for two reproductive cells of the opposite sex to meet and fuse. This may sound straightforward but mating is never an easy affair. Not only must the two cells belong...