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Epigenetic conflict on a degenerating Y chromosome increases mutational burden in Drosophila males.

  • Author(s): Wei, Kevin H-C;
  • Gibilisco, Lauren;
  • Bachtrog, Doris
  • et al.

Large portions of eukaryotic genomes consist of transposable elements (TEs), and the establishment of transcription-repressing heterochromatin during early development safeguards genome integrity in Drosophila. Repeat-rich Y chromosomes can act as reservoirs for TEs ('toxic' Y effect), and incomplete epigenomic defenses during early development can lead to deleterious TE mobilization. Here, we contrast the dynamics of early TE activation in two Drosophila species with vastly different Y chromosomes of different ages. Zygotic TE expression is elevated in male embryos relative to females in both species, mostly due to expression of Y-linked TEs. Interestingly, male-biased TE expression diminishes across development in D. pseudoobscura, but remains elevated in D. miranda, the species with the younger and larger Y chromosome. The repeat-rich Y of D. miranda still contains many actively transcribed genes, which compromise the formation of silencing heterochromatin. Elevated TE expression results in more de novo insertions of repeats in males compared to females. This lends support to the idea that the 'toxic' Y chromosome can create a mutational burden in males when genome-wide defense mechanisms are compromised, and suggests a previously unappreciated epigenetic conflict on evolving Y chromosomes between transcription of essential genes and silencing of selfish DNA.

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