Vertebrate sex-determining genes play musical chairs.

Sexual reproduction is one of the most highly conserved processes in evolution. However, the genetic and cellular mechanisms making the decision of whether the undifferentiated gonad of animal embryos develops either towards male or female are manifold and quite diverse. In vertebrates, sex-determining mechanisms range from environmental to simple or complex genetic mechanisms and different mechanisms have evolved repeatedly and independently. In species with simple genetic sex-determination, master sex-determining genes lying on sex chromosomes drive the gonadal differentiation process by switching on a developmental program, which ultimately leads to testicular or ovarian differentiation. So far, very few sex-determining genes have been identified in vertebrates and apart from mammals and birds, these genes are apparently not conserved over a larger number of related orders, families, genera, or even species. To fill this knowledge gap and to better explore genetic sex-determination, we propose a strategy (RAD-Sex) that makes use of next-generation sequencing technology to identify genetic markers that define sex-specific segments of the male or female genome.

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