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Turnover of sex chromosomes induced by sexual conflict


Sex-determination genes are among the most fluid features of the genome in many groups of animals1,2. In some taxa the master sex-determining gene moves frequently between chromosomes, whereas in other taxa different genes have been recruited to determine the sex of the zygotes. There is a well developed theory for the origin of stable and highly dimorphic sex chromosomes seen in groups such as the eutherian mammals3. In contrast, the evolutionary lability of genetic sex determination in other groups remains largely unexplained1. In this theoretical study, we show that an autosomal gene under sexually antagonistic selection can cause the spread of a new sex-determining gene linked to it. The mechanism can account for the origin of new sex-determining loci, the transposition of an ancestral sex-determining gene to an autosome, and the maintenance of multiple sex-determining factors in species that lack heteromorphic sex chromosomes.

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Figure 1: Sex determination hijacked by an autosomal sex-determining factor.
Figure 2: Bistability and protected polymorphism of sex-determining factors.
Figure 3: Dependence of evolutionary outcomes on the selection coefficients.


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We thank J. J. Bull, J. Mank and J. Ranz for discussions. G.S.vD. was supported by a Rubicon grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).

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Correspondence to G. S. van Doorn.

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Supplementary Information

The file contains Supplementary Notes and Supplementary Figures 1-4 with Legends. The supplementary material contains a derivation of the Equation (1) in the main text, an assessment of the validity of the analytical results for strong linkage, and simulation results for a number of alternative genetic scenarios (partial dominance, incomplete penetrance or recessiveness of the sex-determination modifier). (PDF 3360 kb)

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van Doorn, G., Kirkpatrick, M. Turnover of sex chromosomes induced by sexual conflict. Nature 449, 909–912 (2007).

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