Vertebrate Sex Determination: Evolutionary Plasticity of a Fundamental Switch

Nat Rev Genet. 2017 Nov;18(11):675-689. doi: 10.1038/nrg.2017.60. Epub 2017 Aug 14.


The discovery of the Sry gene in 1990 triggered a revolution in our understanding of sex determination. More recently, advances in non-model organisms have been fuelled by the rapid evolution of affordable genome and transcriptome technologies. This Review considers the unusual plasticity in the bipotential system of sex determination and some of the diverse mechanisms that have evolved to control this critical developmental decision, including strong genetic pathways, environmental influences and epigenetic regulation. Ideas emerging from model and non-model organisms that suggest that sex determination operates as an antagonistic network with the emergent property of bistability are discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / physiology*
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Sex Determination Processes / physiology*
  • Vertebrates / physiology*