Weird mammals provide insights into the evolution of mammalian sex chromosomes and dosage compensation Academic Article uri icon


  • The deep divergence of mammalian groups 166 and 190 million years ago (MYA) provide genetic variation to explore the evolution of DNA sequence, gene arrangement and regulation of gene expression in mammals. With encouragement from the founder of the field, Mary Lyon, techniques in cytogenetics and molecular biology were progressively adapted to characterize the sex chromosomes of kangaroos and other marsupials, platypus and echidna-and weird rodent species. Comparative gene mapping reveals the process of sex chromosome evolution from their inception 190 MYA (they are autosomal in platypus) to their inevitable end (the Y has disappeared in two rodent lineages). Our X and Y are relatively young, getting their start with the evolution of the sex-determining SRY gene, which triggered progressive degradation of the Y chromosome. Even more recently, sex chromosomes of placental mammals fused with an autosomal region which now makes up most of the Y. Exploration of gene activity patterns over four decades showed that dosage compensation via X-chromosome inactivation is unique to therian mammals, and that this whole chromosome control process is different in marsupials and absent in monotremes and reptiles, and birds. These differences can be exploited to deduce how mammalian sex chromosomes and epigenetic silencing evolved.

publication date

  • 2015