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Mol Biol Evol. 2012 Dec;29(12):3741-54. doi: 10.1093/molbev/mss177. Epub 2012 Jul 23.

Patterns of molecular evolution of an avian neo-sex chromosome.

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Molecular Ecology and Evolution Lab, Department of Biology, Lund University, Lund, Sweden.


Newer parts of sex chromosomes, neo-sex chromosomes, offer unique possibilities for studying gene degeneration and sequence evolution in response to loss of recombination and population size decrease. We have recently described a neo-sex chromosome system in Sylvioidea passerines that has resulted from a fusion between the first half (10 Mb) of chromosome 4a and the ancestral sex chromosomes. In this study, we report the results of molecular analyses of neo-Z and neo-W gametologs and intronic parts of neo-Z and autosomal genes on the second half of chromosome 4a in three species within different Sylvioidea lineages (Acrocephalidea, Timaliidae, and Alaudidae). In line with hypotheses of neo-sex chromosome evolution, we observe 1) lower genetic diversity of neo-Z genes compared with autosomal genes, 2) moderate synonymous and weak nonsynonymous sequence divergence between neo-Z and neo-W gametologs, and 3) lower GC content on neo-W than neo-Z gametologs. Phylogenetic reconstruction of eight neo-Z and neo-W gametologs suggests that recombination continued after the split of Alaudidae from the rest of the Sylvioidea lineages (i.e., after ~42.2 Ma) and with some exceptions also after the split of Acrocephalidea and Timaliidae (i.e., after ~39.4 Ma). The Sylvioidea neo-sex chromosome shares classical evolutionary features with the ancestral sex chromosomes but, as expected from its more recent origin, shows weaker divergence between gametologs.

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