Selected features of marsupial genetics

Genetica. 1993;90(2-3):165-80. doi: 10.1007/BF01435038.


As a consequence of the ancient separation of the marsupial and eutherian lineages, comparative genetical studies of these two mammalian taxa can be particularly informative. The potential for marsupial genetical research has been enhanced by the development of laboratory colonies of three 'model' species--Macropus eugenii, Monodelphis domestica and Sminthopsis crassicaudata. In this paper two selected aspects of marsupial genetics are reviewed, one involving cytogenetics and the other linkage. Marsupials provide a spectacular example of karyotypic conservation. The so-called 'basic karyotype' (2n = 14) is probably ancestral in all extant marsupials. Karyotypes that do not conform to this basic arrangement are thought to have been derived from it. A notable feature of the basic karyotype is that it has been retained, possibly for as long as 150 million years, in morphologically, behaviourally and ecologically diverse species from at least five Australian and two American families; this suggests that selective forces, presently unknown, have acted to conserve the basic chromosome form and number in these species. With respect to genetic linkage, family studies in S. crassicaudata and more recently M. domestica have indicated extreme differences between the sexes with the recombination frequencies for linked loci being very much greater in males than in females, a situation that is strikingly different from that in eutherian mammals. These differences in linkage values are paralleled by differences in the number and distribution of chiasmata during male and female meiosis. Prospects for further research in marsupials, particularly research that builds upon the observations of karyotypic conservation and genetic linkage, are noted.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Genetic Linkage
  • Karyotyping
  • Male
  • Marsupialia / classification
  • Marsupialia / genetics*
  • Recombination, Genetic
  • Species Specificity