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Genetics. May 2003; 164(1): 259–268.
PMCID: PMC1462550

Is the rate of insertion and deletion mutation male biased?: Molecular evolutionary analysis of avian and primate sex chromosome sequences.


The rate of mutation for nucleotide substitution is generally higher among males than among females, likely owing to the larger number of DNA replications in spermatogenesis than in oogenesis. For insertion and deletion (indel) mutations, data from a few human genetic disease loci indicate that the two sexes may mutate at similar rates, possibly because such mutations arise in connection with meiotic crossing over. To address origin- and sex-specific rates of indel mutation we have conducted the first large-scale molecular evolutionary analysis of indels in noncoding DNA sequences from sex chromosomes. The rates are similar on the X and Y chromosomes of primates but about twice as high on the avian Z chromosome as on the W chromosome. The fact that indels are not uncommon on the nonrecombining Y and W chromosomes excludes meiotic crossing over as the main cause of indel mutation. On the other hand, the similar rates on X and Y indicate that the number of DNA replications (higher for Y than for X) is also not the main factor. Our observations are therefore consistent with a role of both DNA replication and recombination in the generation of short insertion and deletion mutations. A significant excess of deletion compared to insertion events is observed on the avian W chromosome, consistent with gradual DNA loss on a nonrecombining chromosome.

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Selected References

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