Reversal of an ancient sex chromosome to an autosome in Drosophila

Nature. 2013 Jul 18;499(7458):332-5. doi: 10.1038/nature12235. Epub 2013 Jun 23.


Although transitions of sex-determination mechanisms are frequent in species with homomorphic sex chromosomes, heteromorphic sex chromosomes are thought to represent a terminal evolutionary stage owing to chromosome-specific adaptations such as dosage compensation or an accumulation of sex-specific mutations. Here we show that an autosome of Drosophila, the dot chromosome, was ancestrally a differentiated X chromosome. We analyse the whole genome of true fruitflies (Tephritidae), flesh flies (Sarcophagidae) and soldier flies (Stratiomyidae) to show that genes located on the dot chromosome of Drosophila are X-linked in outgroup species, whereas Drosophila X-linked genes are autosomal. We date this chromosomal transition to early drosophilid evolution by sequencing the genome of other Drosophilidae. Our results reveal several puzzling aspects of Drosophila dot chromosome biology to be possible remnants of its former life as a sex chromosome, such as its minor feminizing role in sex determination or its targeting by a chromosome-specific regulatory mechanism. We also show that patterns of biased gene expression of the dot chromosome during early embryogenesis, oogenesis and spermatogenesis resemble that of the current X chromosome. Thus, although sex chromosomes are not necessarily evolutionary end points and can revert back to an autosomal inheritance, the highly specialized genome architecture of this former X chromosome suggests that severe fitness costs must be overcome for such a turnover to occur.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chromosomes, Insect*
  • Drosophila / genetics*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Female
  • Male
  • Sex Chromosomes*
  • Tephritidae / genetics