Background: Y chromosomes are responsible for the initiation of male development, male fertility, and other male-related functions in diverse species. However, Y genes are rarely characterized outside a few model species due to the arduous nature of studying the repeat-rich Y.
Results: The chromosome quotient (CQ) is a novel approach to systematically discover Y chromosome genes. In the CQ method, genomic DNA from males and females is sequenced independently and aligned to candidate reference sequences. The female to male ratio of the number of alignments to a reference sequence, a parameter called the chromosome quotient (CQ), is used to determine whether the sequence is Y-linked. Using the CQ method, we successfully identified known Y sequences from Homo sapiens and Drosophila melanogaster. The CQ method facilitated the discovery of Y chromosome sequences from the malaria mosquitoes Anopheles stephensi and An. gambiae. Comparisons to transcriptome sequence data with blastn led to the discovery of six Anopheles Y genes, three from each species. All six genes are expressed in the early embryo. Two of the three An. stephensi Y genes were recently acquired from the autosomes or the X. Although An. stephensi and An. gambiae belong to the same subgenus, we found no evidence of Y genes shared between the species.
Conclusions: The CQ method can reliably identify Y chromosome sequences using the ratio of alignments from male and female sequence data. The CQ method is widely applicable to species with fragmented genome assemblies produced from next-generation sequencing data. Analysis of the six Y genes characterized in this study indicates rapid Y chromosome evolution between An. stephensi and An. gambiae. The Anopheles Y genes discovered by the CQ method provide unique markers for population and phylogenetic analysis, and opportunities for novel mosquito control measures through the manipulation of sexual dimorphism and fertility.