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Concept: Y chromosome


The human X and Y chromosomes evolved from an ordinary pair of autosomes during the past 200-300 million years. The human MSY (male-specific region of Y chromosome) retains only three percent of the ancestral autosomes' genes owing to genetic decay. This evolutionary decay was driven by a series of five ‘stratification’ events. Each event suppressed X-Y crossing over within a chromosome segment or ‘stratum’, incorporated that segment into the MSY and subjected its genes to the erosive forces that attend the absence of crossing over. The last of these events occurred 30 million years ago, 5 million years before the human and Old World monkey lineages diverged. Although speculation abounds regarding ongoing decay and looming extinction of the human Y chromosome, remarkably little is known about how many MSY genes were lost in the human lineage in the 25 million years that have followed its separation from the Old World monkey lineage. To investigate this question, we sequenced the MSY of the rhesus macaque, an Old World monkey, and compared it to the human MSY. We discovered that during the last 25 million years MSY gene loss in the human lineage was limited to the youngest stratum (stratum 5), which comprises three percent of the human MSY. In the older strata, which collectively comprise the bulk of the human MSY, gene loss evidently ceased more than 25 million years ago. Likewise, the rhesus MSY has not lost any older genes (from strata 1-4) during the past 25 million years, despite its major structural differences to the human MSY. The rhesus MSY is simpler, with few amplified gene families or palindromes that might enable intrachromosomal recombination and repair. We present an empirical reconstruction of human MSY evolution in which each stratum transitioned from rapid, exponential loss of ancestral genes to strict conservation through purifying selection.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Cell, Evolution, Species, Chromosome, Primate, Y chromosome


Previous studies that pooled Indian populations from a wide variety of geographical locations, have obtained contradictory conclusions about the processes of the establishment of the Varna caste system and its genetic impact on the origins and demographic histories of Indian populations. To further investigate these questions we took advantage that both Y chromosome and caste designation are paternally inherited, and genotyped 1,680 Y chromosomes representing 12 tribal and 19 non-tribal (caste) endogamous populations from the predominantly Dravidian-speaking Tamil Nadu state in the southernmost part of India. Tribes and castes were both characterized by an overwhelming proportion of putatively Indian autochthonous Y-chromosomal haplogroups (H-M69, F-M89, R1a1-M17, L1-M27, R2-M124, and C5-M356; 81% combined) with a shared genetic heritage dating back to the late Pleistocene (10-30 Kya), suggesting that more recent Holocene migrations from western Eurasia contributed <20% of the male lineages. We found strong evidence for genetic structure, associated primarily with the current mode of subsistence. Coalescence analysis suggested that the social stratification was established 4-6 Kya and there was little admixture during the last 3 Kya, implying a minimal genetic impact of the Varna (caste) system from the historically-documented Brahmin migrations into the area. In contrast, the overall Y-chromosomal patterns, the time depth of population diversifications and the period of differentiation were best explained by the emergence of agricultural technology in South Asia. These results highlight the utility of detailed local genetic studies within India, without prior assumptions about the importance of Varna rank status for population grouping, to obtain new insights into the relative influences of past demographic events for the population structure of the whole of modern India.

Concepts: Sociology, Genetic genealogy, India, Y chromosome, Tamil Nadu, South India, Tamil language, Tamil people


The dosage compensation complex (DCC) binds to single X chromosomes in Drosophila males and increases the transcription level of X-linked genes by approximately twofold. Male-specific lethal 2 (MSL2) together with MSL1 mediates the initial recruitment of the DCC to high-affinity sites in the X chromosome. MSL2 contains a DNA-binding cysteine-rich CXC domain that is important for X targeting. In this study, we determined the solution structure of MSL2 CXC domain by NMR spectroscopy. We identified three zinc ions in the CXC domain and determined the metal-to-cysteine connectivities from (1)H-(113)Cd correlation experiments. The structure reveals an unusual zinc-cysteine cluster composed of three zinc ions coordinated by six terminal and three bridging cysteines. The CXC domain exhibits unexpected structural homology to pre-SET motifs of histone lysine methyltransferases, expanding the distribution and structural diversity of the CXC domain superfamily. Our findings provide novel structural insight into the evolution and function of CXC domains.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Evolution, Chromosome, Y chromosome, Drosophila melanogaster, X chromosome


Recombination suppression leads to the structural and functional differentiation of sex chromosomes, and is thus a crucial step in the process of sex chromosome evolution. Despite extensive theoretical work, the exact processes and mechanisms of recombination suppression and differentiation are not well understood. In threespine sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus), a different sex chromosome system has recently evolved by a fusion between the Y chromosome and an autosome in the Japan Sea lineage, which diverged from the ancestor of other lineages about two million years ago. We investigated the evolutionary dynamics and differentiation processes of sex chromosomes based on comparative analyses of these divergent lineages using 63 microsatellite loci. Both chromosome-wide differentiation patterns and phylogenetic inferences with X and Y alleles indicated that the ancestral sex chromosomes were extensively differentiated before the divergence of these lineages. In contrast, genetic differentiation appeared to have proceeded only in a small region of the neo-sex chromosomes. The recombination maps constructed for the Japan Sea lineage indicated that recombination has been suppressed or reduced over a large region spanning the ancestral and neo-sex chromosomes. Chromosomal regions exhibiting genetic differentiation and suppressed or reduced recombination were detected continuously and sequentially in the neo-sex chromosomes, suggesting that differentiation has gradually spread from the fusion point following the extension of recombination suppression. Our study illustrates an ongoing process of sex chromosome differentiation, providing empirical support for the theoretical model postulating that recombination suppression and differentiation proceed in a gradual manner in the very early stage of sex chromosome evolution.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Human, Bacteria, Evolution, Chromosome, Y chromosome


BACKGROUND: Tilapia is the common name for a group of cichlid fishes and is one of the most important aquacultured freshwater food fish. Mozambique tilapia and its hybrids, including red tilapia are main representatives of salt tolerant tilapias. A linkage map is an essential framework for mapping QTL for important traits, positional cloning of genes and understanding of genome evolution. RESULTS: We constructed a consensus linkage map of Mozambique tilapia and red tilapia using 95 individuals from two F1 families and 401 microsatellites including 282 EST-derived markers. In addition, we conducted comparative mapping and searched for sex-determining loci on the whole genome. These 401 microsatellites were assigned to 22 linkage groups. The map spanned 1067.6 cM with an average inter-marker distance of 3.3 cM. Comparative mapping between tilapia and stickleback, medaka, pufferfish and zebrafish revealed clear homologous relationships between chromosomes from different species. We found evidence for the fusion of two sets of two independent chromosomes forming two new chromosome pairs, leading to a reduction of 24 chromosome pairs in their ancestor to 22 pairs in tilapias. The XY sex determination locus in Mozambique tilapia was mapped on LG1, and verified in five families containing 549 individuals. The major XY sex determination locus in red tilapia was located on LG22, and verified in two families containing 275 individuals. CONCLUSIONS: A first-generation linkage map of salt tolerance tilapias was constructed using 401 microsatellites. Two separate fusions of two sets of two independent chromosomes may lead to a reduction of 24 chromosome pairs in their ancestor to 22 pairs in tilapias. The XY sex-determining loci from Mozambique tilapia and red tilapia were mapped on LG1 and LG22, respectively. This map provides a useful resource for QTL mapping for important traits and comparative genome studies. The DNA markers linked to the sex-determining loci could be used in the selection of YY males for breeding all-male populations of salt tolerant tilapia, as well as in studies on mechanisms of sex determination in fish.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Human, Chromosome, Cichlid, Fish, Y chromosome, XY sex-determination system


Sex chromosomes are an ideal system to study processes connected with suppressed recombination. We found evidence of microsatellite expansion, on the relatively young Y chromosome of the dioecious plant sorrel (Rumex acetosa, XY1Y2 system), but no such expansion on the more ancient Y chromosomes of liverwort (Marchantia polymorpha) and human. The most expanding motifs were AC and AAC, which also showed periodicity of array length, indicating the importance of beginnings and ends of arrays. Our data indicate that abundance of microsatellites in genomes depends on the inherent expansion potential of specific motifs, which could be related to their stability and ability to adopt unusual DNA conformations. We also found that the abundance of microsatellites is higher in the neighborhood of transposable elements (TEs) suggesting that microsatellites are probably targets for TE insertions. This evidence suggests that microsatellite expansion is an early event shaping the Y chromosome where this process is not opposed by recombination, while accumulation of TEs and chromosome shrinkage predominate later.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Bacteria, Evolution, Chromosome, Genetic genealogy, Y chromosome, XY sex-determination system


Sharing sequencing data sets without identifiers has become a common practice in genomics. Here, we report that surnames can be recovered from personal genomes by profiling short tandem repeats on the Y chromosome (Y-STRs) and querying recreational genetic genealogy databases. We show that a combination of a surname with other types of metadata, such as age and state, can be used to triangulate the identity of the target. A key feature of this technique is that it entirely relies on free, publicly accessible Internet resources. We quantitatively analyze the probability of identification for U.S. males. We further demonstrate the feasibility of this technique by tracing back with high probability the identities of multiple participants in public sequencing projects.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Chromosome, Genetic genealogy, Y chromosome, Identification, Short tandem repeat, Genealogical DNA test


The mammalian Y Chromosome sequence, critical for studying male fertility and dispersal, is enriched in repeats and palindromes, and thus, is the most difficult component of the genome to assemble. Previously, expensive and labor-intensive BAC-based techniques were used to sequence the Y for a handful of mammalian species. Here, we present a much faster and more affordable strategy for sequencing and assembling mammalian Y Chromosomes of sufficient quality for most comparative genomics analyses and for conservation genetics applications. The strategy combines flow sorting, short- and long-read genome and transcriptome sequencing, and droplet digital PCR with novel and existing computational methods. It can be used to reconstruct sex chromosomes in a heterogametic sex of any species. We applied our strategy to produce a draft of the gorilla Y sequence. The resulting assembly allowed us to refine gene content, evaluate copy number of ampliconic gene families, locate species-specific palindromes, examine the repetitive element content, and produce sequence alignments with human and chimpanzee Y Chromosomes. Our results inform the evolution of the hominine (human, chimpanzee, and gorilla) Y Chromosomes. Surprisingly, we found the gorilla Y Chromosome to be similar to the human Y Chromosome, but not to the chimpanzee Y Chromosome. Moreover, we have utilized the assembled gorilla Y Chromosome sequence to design genetic markers for studying the male-specific dispersal of this endangered species.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Human, Species, Chromosome, Y chromosome, XY sex-determination system


The human Y chromosome exhibits surprisingly low levels of genetic diversity. This could result from neutral processes if the effective population size of males is reduced relative to females due to a higher variance in the number of offspring from males than from females. Alternatively, selection acting on new mutations, and affecting linked neutral sites, could reduce variability on the Y chromosome. Here, using genome-wide analyses of X, Y, autosomal and mitochondrial DNA, in combination with extensive population genetic simulations, we show that low observed Y chromosome variability is not consistent with a purely neutral model. Instead, we show that models of purifying selection are consistent with observed Y diversity. Further, the number of sites estimated to be under purifying selection greatly exceeds the number of Y-linked coding sites, suggesting the importance of the highly repetitive ampliconic regions. While we show that purifying selection removing deleterious mutations can explain the low diversity on the Y chromosome, we cannot exclude the possibility that positive selection acting on beneficial mutations could have also reduced diversity in linked neutral regions, and may have contributed to lowering human Y chromosome diversity. Because the functional significance of the ampliconic regions is poorly understood, our findings should motivate future research in this area.

Concepts: DNA, Human, Mutation, Natural selection, Evolution, Chromosome, Population genetics, Y chromosome


Unlike the autosomes, recombination between the X chromosome and Y chromosome is often thought to be constrained to two small pseudoautosomal regions (PARs) at the tips of each sex chromosome. The PAR1 spans the first 2.7 Mb of the proximal arm of the human sex chromosomes, while the much smaller PAR2 encompasses the distal 320 kb of the long arm of each sex chromosome. In addition to the PAR1 and PAR2, there is a human-specific X-transposed region that was duplicated from the X to the Y. The X-transposed region is often not excluded from X-specific analyses, unlike the PARs, because it is not thought to routinely recombine. Genetic diversity is expected to be higher in recombining regions than in non-recombining regions because recombination reduces the effect of linked selection. In this study, we investigate patterns of genetic diversity in noncoding regions across the entire X chromosome of a global sample of 26 unrelated genetic females. We observe that genetic diversity in the PAR1 is significantly greater than the non-recombining regions (nonPARs). However, rather than an abrupt drop in diversity at the pseudoautosomal boundary, there is a gradual reduction in diversity from the recombining through the non-recombining region, suggesting that recombination between the human sex chromosomes spans across the currently defined pseudoautosomal boundary. A consequence of recombination spanning this boundary potentially includes increasing the rate of sex-linked disorders (e.g., de la Chapelle) and sex chromosome aneuploidies. In contrast, diversity in the PAR2 is not significantly elevated compared to the nonPAR, suggesting that recombination is not obligatory in the PAR2. Finally, diversity in the X-transposed region is higher than the surrounding nonPAR regions, providing evidence that recombination may occur with some frequency between the X and Y in the XTR.

Concepts: DNA, Human, Male, Chromosome, Y chromosome, Sex-determination system, X chromosome, XY sex-determination system