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Evolution of diverse sex-determining mechanisms in mammals
Date:7/29/2013

d other ways to play nature's mating game.

The CWRU team attributed the rapid evolvability of sex determination in rodents to a novel protein domain added to the SRY protein. Scientists knew that this domain existed, but Weiss and his team wanted to understand more about its function in gene regulation and its role in evolution. The team determined that the new protein domain acts as a "genetic capacitor," providing a protective buffer to the Sry gene. This buffer allowed male development even when a mutation occurs elsewhere in the gene that might otherwise cause sex reversalbut the buffer is unstable over generations. Slippage of DNA during the production of sperm can lead to sudden changes in the length of the buffer and the degree of protection. By analogy to a capacitor in an electric circuit, the team suggested that this domain can "discharge" to accelerate the pace of evolutionary change. The idea of a genetic capacitor was pioneered by MIT Professor Susan Lindquist in studies of heat-shock proteins in fruit flies in (Nature, "Hsp90 as a capacitor for morphological evolution") and the present paper extended this idea to the pace of mammalian evolution.

How did the Sry buffer arise? "We discovered that a genetic accident 20 million years ago in an ancestral rodent holds the key to solving this puzzle. A simple DNA repeat sequence (called a 'micro-satellite') invaded the Y chromosome and was incorporated into the Sry gene. This invasion accelerated the evolvability of Sry and probably the Y chromosome in general, enabling this subgroup of rodents to explore new molecular mechanisms of sex determination," Weiss said.

Weiss and his team will continue this research, but believe these initial results may have additional implications for our understanding of human evolution and genetics. Because rodents have higher mutation rates and shorter life spans, they also evolve more rapidly and so provide a natural laboratory for studies of m
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Contact: Amanda Petrak
amanda.petrak@case.edu
216-368-0345
Case Western Reserve University
Source:Eurekalert

Page: 1 2 3

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