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The timing of genetic degeneration of sex chromosomes

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Original languageEnglish
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 12 Jun 2020


Genetic degeneration is an extraordinary feature of sex chromosomes, with loss of functions of Y-linked genes in species with XY systems, and W-linked genes in ZW systems, eventually affecting almost all genes. Although degeneration is familiar to most biologists, important aspects are not yet well understood, including how quickly a Y or W chromosome can become completely degenerated. I review current understanding of the time-course of degeneration. Degeneration starts after crossing over between the sex chromosome pair stops, and theoretical models predict an initially fast degeneration rate and a later much slower one. It has become possible to estimate the two quantities that the models suggest are the most important in determining degeneration rates — the size of the sex-linked region, and the time when recombination became suppressed (which can be estimated using Y-X or W-Z sequence divergence). However, quantifying degeneration is still difficult. I review evidence on gene losses (based on coverage analysis), or loss of function (by classifying coding sequences into functional alleles and pseudogenes). I also review evidence about whether small genome regions degenerate, or only large ones, whether selective constraints on the genes in a sex-linked region also strongly affect degeneration rates, and about how long it takes before all (or almost all) genes are lost.

    Research areas

  • evolutionary strata, chromosome fusion, dosage compensation

ID: 153894977