Sex, genes, and heat: triggers of diversity

J Exp Zool. 2001 Nov 1;290(6):624-31. doi: 10.1002/jez.1113.


In vertebrates, sex is determined by a surprising variety of mechanisms. In many reptiles, the primary testis or ovary-determining trigger is regulated by egg incubation temperature. This temperature dependent sex determining (TSD) mechanism occurs in all crocodilians and marine turtles examined to date and is common in terrestrial turtles and viviparous lizards (Ewert et al. 1994. J Exp Zool 270:3-15; Lang and Andrews. 1994. J Exp Biol 270:28-44; Mrosovsky. 1994. J Exp Zool 270:16-27; Pieau. 1996. Bioessays 18:19-26; Viets et al. 1994. J Exp Zool 270:45-56; Wibbels et al. 1998. J Exp Zool 281:409-416). In contrast, sex in mammals and birds is determined chromosomally (CSD). Despite these differences, morphological development of the gonads in all these vertebrate groups appears to have been conserved through evolution. Therefore, the genetic mechanisms triggering sex determination appear not to have been conserved through evolution, although the basic genetic pathway controlling the morphological differentiation of the gonads appears to have been conserved.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Birds / genetics*
  • Birds / growth & development
  • Eggs
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Gonads / growth & development
  • Mammals / genetics*
  • Mammals / growth & development
  • Reptiles / genetics*
  • Reptiles / growth & development
  • Sex Chromosomes*
  • Sex Determination Processes*
  • Sex Differentiation / genetics*
  • Temperature*