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Eukaryotes employ a diversity of strategies to ensure that gametes come together, but the cellular climax is less varied: gamete plasma membranes must fuse to allow the combination of parental genomes. Recent studies of HAP2-GCS1, a sex-restricted transmembrane protein found in genomes representing all major eukaryotic taxa except fungi, suggest that a broad array of eukaryotic organisms could share a common mechanism for gamete fusion. Plant, protozoan, and algal gametes carrying loss-of-function mutations in HAP2-GCS1 fail to fuse with their complements. We propose that HAP2-GCS1 is a crucial component of an ancient mechanism that mediates the fusion of gamete plasma membranes and could have been a key early innovation in the evolution of sexual reproduction.

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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...