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Genome. 2006 Mar;49(3):254-62.

Phylogeny of the sex-determining gene Sex-lethal in insects.

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Institut für Biologie, Universität zu Lübeck, Ratzeburger Allee 160, D-23538 Lübeck, Germany.


The Sex-lethal (SXL) protein belongs to the family of RNA-binding proteins and is involved in the regulation of pre-mRNA splicing. SXL has undergone an obvious change of function during the evolution of the insect clade. The gene has acquired a pivotal role in the sex-determining pathway of Drosophila, although it does not act as a sex determiner in non-drosophilids. We collected SXL sequences of insect species ranging from the pea aphid (Acyrtho siphom pisum) to Drosophila melanogaster by searching published articles, sequencing cDNAs, and exploiting homology searches in public EST and whole-genome databases. The SXL protein has moderately conserved N- and C-terminal regions and a well-conserved central region including 2 RNA recognition motifs. Our phylogenetic analysis shows that a single orthologue of the Drosophila Sex-lethal (Sxl) gene is present in the genomes of the malaria mosquito Anopheles gambiae, the honeybee Apis mellifera, the silkworm Bombyx mori, and the red flour beetle Tribolium castaneum. The D. melanogaster, D. erecta, and D. pseudoobscura genomes, however, contain 2 paralogous genes, Sxl and CG3056, which are orthologous to the Anopheles, Apis, Bombyx, and Tribolium Sxl. Hence, a duplication in the fly clade generated Sxl and CG3056. Our hypothesis maintains that one of the genes, Sxl, adopted the new function of sex determiner in Drosophila, whereas the other, CG3056, continued to serve some or all of the yet-unknown ancestral functions.

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