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Multiple origins of XY female mice (genus Akodon): phylogenetic and chromosomal evidence

Hopi E. Hoekstra, Scott V. Edwards


Despite the diversity in sex determination across organisms, theory predicts that the evolution of XY females is rare in mammals due to fitness consequences associated with infertility or the loss of YY zygotes. We investigated this hypothesis from a phylogenetic perspective by examining the inter–and intraspecific distribution of Y chromosomes in males and females (XY females) in South American field mice (Akodon).We found that XY females occurred at appreciable frequencies (10–66%) in at least eight Akodon species, raising the possibility that this system of sex determination has arisen multiple times independently. To determine the number of origins of XY females in Akodon, we constructed a molecular phylogeny of 16 species of Akodon based on mitochondrial DNA control region sequences. Both parsimony and maximum–likelihood reconstruction of ancestral states suggest that multiple steps (gains or losses of XY females) best explain the evolution of XY females, but do not clearly differentiate between single and multiple origins. We then directly compared functional and non–functional Y chromosomes in six species by Southern blot analysis.We found that male and female Ychromosome restriction fragment length polymorphism patterns were identical within species, but always differed between species, providing evidence that XY females arose at least six times within the Akodon lineage. To our knowledge, this pattern in Akodon is the first documentation of a novel sex–determining system arising multiple times within a tight clade of mammals. In addition, this system provides a clear test of the accuracy of phylogenetic methods to reconstruct ancestral states.

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