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Disruption of FEM1C-W gene in zebra finch: evolutionary insights on avian ZW genes


Sex chromosome genes control sex determination and differentiation, but the mechanisms of sex determination in birds are unknown. In this study, we analyzed the gene FEM1C which is highly conserved from Caenorhabditis elegans to higher vertebrates and interacts with the sex determining pathway in C. elegans. We found that FEM1C is located on the Z and W chromosome of zebra finches and probably other Passerine birds, but shows only Z linkage in other avian orders. In the zebra finch, FEM1C-W is degraded because of a point mutation and possibly because of loss of the first exon containing the start methionine. Thus, FEM1C-W appears to have degenerated or been lost from most bird species. FEM1C-Z is expressed in a cytoplasmic location in zebra finch fibroblast cells, as in C. elegans. FEM1C represents an interesting example of evolutionary degradation of a W chromosome gene.

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