Turtle karyotypes are highly conserved compared to other vertebrates; yet, variation in diploid number (2n = 26-68) reflects profound genomic reorganization, which correlates with evolutionary turnovers in sex determination. We evaluate the published literature and newly collected comparative cytogenetic data (G- and C-banding, 18S-NOR, and telomere-FISH mapping) from 13 species spanning 2n = 28-68 to revisit turtle genome evolution and sex determination. Interstitial telomeric sites were detected in multiple lineages that underwent diploid number and sex determination turnovers, suggesting chromosomal rearrangements. C-banding revealed potential interspecific variation in centromere composition and interstitial heterochromatin at secondary constrictions. 18S-NORs were detected in secondary constrictions in a single chromosomal pair per species, refuting previous reports of multiple NORs in turtles. 18S-NORs are linked to ZW chromosomes in Apalone and Pelodiscus and to X (not Y) in Staurotypus. Notably, comparative genomics across amniotes revealed that the sex chromosomes of several turtles, as well as mammals and some lizards, are homologous to components of Xenopus tropicalis XTR1 (carrying Dmrt1). Other turtle sex chromosomes are homologous to XTR4 (carrying Wt1). Interestingly, all known turtle sex chromosomes, except in Trionychidae, evolved via inversions around Dmrt1 or Wt1. Thus, XTR1 appears to represent an amniote proto-sex chromosome (perhaps linked ancestrally to XTR4) that gave rise to turtle and other amniote sex chromosomes.
© 2016 S. Karger AG, Basel.