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, 10 (5-6), 223-241

Bending Genders: The Biology of Natural Sex Change in Fish


Bending Genders: The Biology of Natural Sex Change in Fish

Erica V Todd et al. Sex Dev.


Sexual fate is no longer seen as an irreversible deterministic switch set during early embryonic development but as an ongoing battle for primacy between male and female developmental trajectories. That sexual fate is not final and must be actively maintained via continuous suppression of the opposing sexual network creates the potential for flexibility into adulthood. In many fishes, sexuality is not only extremely plastic, but sex change is a usual and adaptive part of the life cycle. Sequential hermaphrodites begin life as one sex, changing sometime later to the other, and include species capable of protandrous (male-to-female), protogynous (female-to-male), or serial (bidirectional) sex change. Natural sex change involves coordinated transformations across multiple biological systems, including behavioural, anatomical, neuroendocrine, and molecular axes. We here review the biological processes underlying this amazing transformation, focussing particularly on its molecular basis, which remains poorly understood, but where new genomic technologies are significantly advancing our understanding of how sex change is initiated and progressed at the molecular level. Knowledge of how a usually committed developmental process remains plastic in sequentially hermaphroditic fishes is relevant to understanding the evolution and functioning of sexual developmental systems in vertebrates generally, as well as pathologies of sexual development in humans.

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