Research on speciation of marine organisms has lagged behind that of terrestrial ones, but the study of the evolution of molecules involved in the adhesion of gametes in free-spawning invertebrates is an exception. Here I review the function, species-specificity, and molecular variation of loci coding for bindin in sea urchins, lysin in abalone and their egg receptors, in an effort to assess the degree to which they contribute to the emergence of reproductive isolation during the speciation process. Bindin is a protein that mediates binding of the sperm to the vitelline envelope (VE) of the egg and the fusion of the gametes' membranes, whereas lysin is a protein involved only in binding to the VE. Both of these molecules are important in species recognition by the gametes, but they rarely constitute absolute blocks to interspecific hybridization. Intraspecific polymorphism is high in bindin, but low in lysin. Polymorphism in bindin is maintained by frequency-dependent selection due to sexual conflict arising from the danger of polyspermy under high densities of sperm. Monomorphism in lysin is the result of purifying selection arising from the need for species recognition. Interspecific divergence in lysin is due to strong positive selection, and the same is true for bindin of four out of seven genera of sea urchins studied to date. The differences between the sea urchin genera in the strength of selection can only partially be explained by the hypothesis of reinforcement. The egg receptor for lysin (VERL) is a glycoprotein with 22 repeats, 20 of which have evolved neutrally and homogenized by concerted evolution, whereas the first two repeats are under positive selection. Selection on lysin has been generated by the need to track changes in VERL, permitted by the redundant structure of this molecule. Both lysin and bindin are important in reproductive isolation, probably had a role in speciation, but it is hard to determine whether they meet the strictest criteria of "speciation loci," defined as genes whose differentiation has caused speciation.
Lessios, Harilaos A. 2011. Speciation Genes in Free-Spawning Marine Invertebrates. <i>Integrative and Comparative Biology<i>, 51(3): 456-465. doi:10.1093/icb/icr039