The mechanisms by which new modes of reproduction evolve remain important unsolved puzzles in evolutionary biology. Nematode worms are ideal for studying the evolution of mating systems because the phylum includes both a large range of reproductive modes and large numbers of evolutionarily independent switches [1, 2]. Rhabditis sp. SB347, a nematode with sexual polymorphism, produces males, females, and hermaphrodites . To understand how the transition between mating systems occurs, we characterized the mechanisms that regulate female versus hermaphrodite fate in Rhabditis sp. SB347. Hermaphrodites develop through an obligatory nonfeeding juvenile stage, the dauer larva. Here we show that by suppressing dauer formation, Rhabditis sp. SB347 develops into females. Conversely, larvae that under optimal growth conditions develop into females can be respecified toward hermaphroditic development if submitted to dauer-inducing conditions. These results are of significance to understanding the evolution of complex mating systems present in parasitic nematodes.
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