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Evidence that single-stranded DNA breaks are a normal feature of koala sperm chromatin, while double-stranded DNA breaks are indicative of DNA damage

Yeng Peng Zee, Carmen Lopez-Fernandez1, F Arroyo1, Stephen D Johnston, William V Holt2 and Jaime Gosalvez1

The University of Queensland, Gatton, Queensland 4343, Australia, 1Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, 20849 Madrid, Spain and 2Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, Regent’s Park, London NW1 4RY, UK
Correspondence should be addressed to W V Holt; Email:

In this study, we have used single and double comet assays to differentiate between single- and double-stranded DNA damage in an effort to refine the interpretation of DNA damage in mature koala spermatozoa. We have also investigated the likelihood that single-stranded DNA breakage is part of the natural spermiogenic process in koalas, where its function would be the generation of structural bends in the DNA molecule so that appropriate packaging and compaction can occur. Koala spermatozoa were examined using the sperm chromatin dispersion test (SCDt) and comet assays to investigate non-orthodox double-stranded DNA. Comet assays were conducted under 1) neutral conditions; and 2) neutral followed by alkaline conditions (double comet assay); the latter technique enabled simultaneous visualisation of both single-stranded and double-stranded DNA breaks. Following the SCDt, there was a continuum of nuclear morphotypes, ranging from no apparent DNA fragmentation to those with highly dispersed and degraded chromatin. Dispersion morphotypes were mirrored by a similar diversity of comet morphologies that could be further differentiated using the double comet assay. The majority of koala spermatozoa had nuclei with DNA abasic-like residues that produced single-tailed comets following the double comet assay. The ubiquity of these residues suggests that constitutive alkali-labile sites are part of the structural configuration of the koala sperm nucleus. Spermatozoa with ‘true’ DNA fragmentation exhibited a continuum of comet morphologies, ranging from a more severe form of alkaline-susceptible DNA with a diffuse single tail to nuclei that exhibited both single- and double-stranded breaks with two comet tails.
Reproduction (2009) 138 267–278

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