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Genetic conflict in fish led to evolution of new sex chromosomes
Date:10/1/2009

University of Maryland biologists have genetically mapped the sex chromosomes of several species of cichlid (pronounced "sick-lid") fish from Lake Malawi, East Africa, and identified a mechanism by which new sex chromosomes may evolve. In research published in the journal Science (October 1, 2009), Professor Thomas D. Kocher, Department of Biology, College of Chemical and Life Sciences; Reade Roberts, post-doctoral associate; and Jennifer Ser, research associate, describe the genetic basis for two co-existing systems of sexual determination in cichlid fish from Lake Malawi.

In nearly all mammals, the gene that determines the sex of offspring is located on the Y chromosome, which is much smaller than the X chromosome. But in many other animal groups, the genetic mechanism of sex determination evolves quite rapidly, and the differences between sex chromosomes are harder to observe. Even sister species of fish may have entirely different sex determination systems. How and why the genetic mechanisms for such an ancient developmental distinction continue to evolve has remained a mystery. The thousands of closely related cichlid fishes in the lakes of East Africa turn out to be an excellent model system for understanding how the mechanisms of how sex determination evolve.

The East African cichlid fishes that inhabit Lakes Malawi, Tanganyika, and Victoria are known for their sexually distinct appearance the males are generally conspicuous and brightly colored, making them more attractive to females, while the females are drab and brown, making them inconspicuous to predators. One exception to the uniformly brown pigmentation among female cichlids is the "orange blotch" pattern, which appears in some female cichlids that live in rocky areas of Lake Malawi. "We believe that the orange blotch color pattern emerged as a new mutation in females and has a selective advantage in providing an alternative form of camouflage," says Dr. Kocher, who ha
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Contact: Kelly Blake
kellyb@umd.edu
301-405-8203
University of Maryland
Source:Eurekalert  

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