Some thoughts about the words we use for thinking about sex chromosome evolution

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Sex chromosomes are familiar to most biologists since they first learned about genetics. However, research over the past 100 years has revealed that different organisms have evolved sex-determining systems independently. The differences in the ages of systems, and in how they evolved, both affect whether sex chromosomes have evolved. However, the diversity means that the terminology used tends to emphasise either the similarities or the differences, sometimes causing misunderstandings. In this article, I discuss some concepts where special care is needed with terminology. The following four terms regularly create problems: “sex chromosome”, “master sex-determining gene” “evolutionary strata” and “genetic degeneration”. There is no generally correct or wrong use of these words, but efforts are necessary to make clear how they are to be understood in specific situations. I briefly outline some widely accepted ideas about sex chromosomes, and then discuss these `’problem terms`’, highlighting some examples where careful use of the words helps bring to light current uncertainties and interesting questions for future work.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1850
Early online date21 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - 9 May 2022


  • evolutionary strata
  • recombination suppression
  • master sex determining gene
  • default sex


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