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Genetics. Jan 1987; 115(1): 107–119.
PMCID: PMC1203045

Gain-of-Function Mutations of fem-3, a Sex-Determination Gene in Caenorhabditis elegans


We have isolated nine gain-of-function (gf) alleles of the sex-determination gene fem-3 as suppressors of feminizing mutations in fem-1 and fem-2. The wild-type fem-3 gene is needed for spermatogenesis in XX self-fertilizing hermaphrodites and for male development in both soma and germ line of XO animals. Loss-of-function alleles of fem-3 transform XX and XO animals into females (spermless hermaphrodites). In contrast, fem-3(gf) alleles masculinize only one tissue, the hermaphrodite germ line. Thus, XX fem-3(gf) mutant animals have a normal hermaphrodite soma, but the germ line produces a vast excess of sperm and no oocytes. All nine fem-3(gf) alleles are temperature sensitive. The temperature-sensitive period is from late L4 to early adult, a period just preceding the first signs of oogenesis. The finding of gain-of-function alleles which confer a phenotype opposite to that of loss-of-function alleles supports the idea that fem-3 plays a critical role in germ-line sex determination. Furthermore, the germ-line specificity of the fem-3( gf) mutant phenotype and the late temperature-sensitive period suggest that, in the wild-type XX hermaphrodite, fem-3 is negatively regulated so that the hermaphrodite stops making sperm and starts making oocytes. Temperature shift experiments also show that, in the germ line, sexual commitment appears to be a continuing process. Spermatogenesis can resume even after oogenesis has begun, and oogenesis can be initiated much later than normal.

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Selected References

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