Sex chromosomes and sex determination in weird mammals Academic Article uri icon


  • Weird mammals are of two types. Highly divergent mammals, such as the marsupials and monotremes, have informed us of the evolutionary history of the Y chromosome and sex-determining gene, and the recently specialized rodents can help us predict its future. The Y chromosome has had a short but eventful history, and is already heading briskly for oblivion. It originated as a homologous partner of the X when it acquired a sex-determining gene (not necessarily SRY). Most of the genes on the Y, even those with a male-specific function, evolved from genes now on the X. At the mercy of a high rate of variability and the forces of drift and selection, the Y has lost genes at a rate of 3-6 genes/million years, sparing those that acquired critical male-specific functions. Even these genes have disappeared from one mammalian lineage or another as their functions were usurped by genes elsewhere in the genome. The mammalian testis-determining gene, SRY, is a typical Y-borne gene. It arose by truncation of a gene (SOX3) on the X that is expressed in brain development, and it may work by interacting with (inhibiting?) related genes, including SOX9. Variant sex-determining systems in rodents show that the action of SRY can change, as it evidently has in the mouse, and SRY can be inactivated, as in akodont rodents, or even completely superseded, as in mole voles.

publication date

  • 2002