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Sex determination in dioecious Mercurialis annua and its close diploid and polyploid relatives.
Separate sexes have evolved on numerous independent occasions from hermaphroditic ancestors in flowering plants. The mechanisms of sex determination is known for only a handful of such species, but, in those that have been investigated, it usually involves alleles segregating at a single locus, sometimes on heteromorphic sex chromosomes. In the genus Mercurialis, transitions between combined (hermaphroditism) and separate sexes (dioecy or androdioecy, where males co-occur with hermaphrodites rather than females) have occurred more than once in association with hybridisation and shifts in ploidy. Previous work has pointed to an unusual 3-locus system of sex determination in dioecious populations. Here, we use crosses and genotyping for a sex-linked marker to reject this model: sex in diploid dioecious M. annua is determined at a single locus with a dominant male-determining allele (an XY system). We also crossed individuals among lineages of Mercurialis that differ in their ploidy and sexual system to ascertain the extent to which the same sex-determination system has been conserved following genome duplication, hybridisation and transitions between dioecy and hermaphroditism. Our results indicate that the male-determining element is fully capable of determining gender in the progeny of hybrids between different lineages. Specifically, males crossed with females or hermaphrodites always generate 1:1 male:female or male:hermaphrodite sex ratios, respectively, regardless of the ploidy levels involved (diploid, tetraploid or hexaploid). Our results throw further light on the genetics of the remarkable variation in sexual systems in the genus Mercurialis. They also illustrate the almost identical expression of sex-determining alleles in terms of sexual phenotypes across multiple divergent backgrounds, including those that have lost separate sexes altogether.
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