BACKGROUND:The evolution of genomic imprinting, the parental-origin specific expression of genes, is the subject of much debate. There are several theories to account for how the mechanism evolved including the hypothesis that it was driven by the evolution of X-inactivation, or that it arose from an ancestrally imprinted chromosome. RESULTS:Here we demonstrate that mammalian orthologues of imprinted genes are dispersed amongst autosomes in both monotreme and marsupial karyotypes. CONCLUSION:These data, along with the similar distribution seen in birds, suggest that imprinted genes were not located on an ancestrally imprinted chromosome or associated with a sex chromosome. Our results suggest imprinting evolution was a stepwise, adaptive process, with each gene/cluster independently becoming imprinted as the need arose.