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Genetics. 2010 Sep;186(1):9-31. doi: 10.1534/genetics.110.117697.

The birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees: lessons from genetic mapping of sex determination in plants and animals.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, Edward Grey Institute, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3PS, United Kingdom.


The ability to identify genetic markers in nonmodel systems has allowed geneticists to construct linkage maps for a diversity of species, and the sex-determining locus is often among the first to be mapped. Sex determination is an important area of study in developmental and evolutionary biology, as well as ecology. Its importance for organisms might suggest that sex determination is highly conserved. However, genetic studies have shown that sex determination mechanisms, and the genes involved, are surprisingly labile. We review studies using genetic mapping and phylogenetic inferences, which can help reveal evolutionary pattern within this lability and potentially identify the changes that have occurred among different sex determination systems. We define some of the terminology, particularly where confusion arises in writing about such a diverse range of organisms, and highlight some major differences between plants and animals, and some important similarities. We stress the importance of studying taxa suitable for testing hypotheses, and the need for phylogenetic studies directed to taxa where the patterns of changes can be most reliably inferred, if the ultimate goal of testing hypotheses regarding the selective forces that have led to changes in such an essential trait is to become feasible.

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