Sex chromosomes evolved from independent ancestral linkage groups in winged insects.


The evolution of a pair of chromosomes that differ in appearance between males and females (heteromorphic sex chromosomes) has occurred repeatedly across plants and animals. Recent work has shown that the male heterogametic (XY) and female heterogametic (ZW) sex chromosomes evolved independently from different pairs of homomorphic autosomes in the common ancestor of birds and mammals but also that X and Z chromosomes share many convergent molecular features. However, little is known about how often heteromorphic sex chromosomes have either evolved convergently from different autosomes or in parallel from the same pair of autosomes and how universal patterns of molecular evolution on sex chromosomes really are. Among winged insects with sequenced genomes, there are male heterogametic species in both the Diptera (e.g., Drosophila melanogaster) and the Coleoptera (Tribolium castaneum), female heterogametic species in the Lepidoptera (Bombyx mori), and haplodiploid species in the Hymenoptera (e.g., Nasonia vitripennis). By determining orthologous relationships among genes on the X and Z chromosomes of insects with sequenced genomes, we are able to show that these chromosomes are not homologous to one another but are homologous to autosomes in each of the other species. These results strongly imply that heteromorphic sex chromosomes have evolved independently from different pairs of ancestral chromosomes in each of the insect orders studied. We also find that the convergently evolved X chromosomes of Diptera and Coleoptera share genomic features with each other and with vertebrate X chromosomes, including excess gene movement from the X to the autosomes. However, other patterns of molecular evolution--such as increased codon bias, decreased gene density, and the paucity of male-biased genes on the X--differ among the insect X and Z chromosomes. Our results provide evidence for both differences and nearly universal similarities in patterns of evolution among independently derived sex chromosomes.


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