Most animals are sexually dimorphic, but different taxa have different sex-specific traits. Despite major differences in the genetic control of sexual development among animal lineages, the doublesex/mab-3 related (Dmrt) family of transcription factors has been shown to be involved in sex-specific differentiation in all animals that have been studied. In recent years the functions of Dmrt genes have been characterized in many animal groups, opening the way to a broad comparative perspective. This review focuses on the similarities and differences in the functions of Dmrt genes across the animal kingdom. I highlight a number of common themes in the sexual development of different taxa, discuss how Dmrt genes have acquired new roles during animal evolution, and show how they have contributed to the origin of novel sex-specific traits.
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