Scientists find master gene, regulates male and female traits


Cris Ledón-Rettig and Armin Moczek pose in their lab. Their research found a master gene, which regulates psychical differences between male and female.  Courtesy Photo Buy Photos

Scientists at IU have found what is described as a “master gene,” which regulates psychical differences between male and female species. The study was conducted on the beetle species Onthophagus taurus because their genome was sequenced by the The Manhattan Project of Entomology.

This new research shows specifics about the gene’s behavior called “double sex” or dsx, according to an IU press release. Cris Ledón-Rettig, a postdoctoral researcher at IU and who led the study, said it was distinctive in how the study was able to review the entire genome in the process.

“We want to know more about this gene because it helps us answer a major question about development and evolution: How do animals with similar genomes — such as males and females of the same species — produce different versions of the same trait?” Ledón-Rettig said in the release. “And why do some traits, like ornamental features that attract mates, vary so widely, while others, like legs, don’t?”

The study indicates dsx is not just a “switch” that turns female characteristics off in a male species or vice versa but rather controls the expression of particular traits based on the sex of the species.

The senior author of the study, Armin Moczek, a professor in the biology department, said the ability to fine tune control by way of this gene is vital to species.

“The power to prevent the expression of male traits in females, and vice versa, is a critical feature,” Moczek said in the release. “It buffers traits that benefit only members of one sex from causing harm in members of the other.”

In the beetle species studied, males have large horns used to battle rivals for females but these horns do not offer similar advantages to female beetles and would interfere when they dig tunnels for their offspring.

Ledón-Rettig said they 
intend to extend their work on dsx into the study of other species in the future as well.

“These beetles are really a powerful platform for unraveling the fundamental mechanisms that underlie evolutionary diversification of sexual traits across species,” Ledón-Rettig said in the release.

Dominick Jean

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