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J Evol Biol. 2009 Jan;22(1):192-200. doi: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2008.01639.x.

The evolution of sex-determining mechanisms: lessons from temperature-sensitive mutations in sex determination genes in Caenorhabditis elegans.

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Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011, USA.


Sexual reproduction is one of the most taxonomically conserved traits, yet sex-determining mechanisms (SDMs) are quite diverse. For instance, there are numerous forms of environmental sex determination (ESD), in which an organism's sex is determined not by genotype, but by environmental factors during development. Important questions remain regarding transitions between SDMs, in part because the organisms exhibiting unique mechanisms often make difficult study organisms. One potential solution is to utilize mutant strains in model organisms better suited to answering these questions. We have characterized two such strains of the model nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. These strains harbour temperature-sensitive mutations in key sex-determining genes. We show that they display a sex ratio reaction norm in response to rearing temperature similar to other organisms with ESD. Next, we show that these mutations also cause deleterious pleiotropic effects on overall fitness. Finally, we show that these mutations are fundamentally different at the genetic sequence level. These strains will be a useful complement to naturally occurring taxa with ESD in future research examining the molecular basis of and the selective forces driving evolutionary transitions between sex determination mechanisms.

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