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Male linked genomic region determines sex in dioecious Amaranthus palmeri


Dioecy, the separation of reproductive organs on different individuals, has evolved repeatedly in different plant families. Several evolutionary paths to dioecy have been suggested, but the mechanisms behind sex determination is not well understood. The diploid dioecious Amaranthus palmeri represents a well-suited model system to study sex determination in plants. Despite the agricultural importance of the species, the genetic control and evolutionary state of dioecy in A. palmeri is currently unknown. Early cytogenetic experiments did not identify heteromorphic chromosomes. Here, we used whole-genome sequencing of male and female pools from 2 independent populations to elucidate the genetic control of dioecy in A. palmeri. Read alignment to a close monoecious relative and allele frequency comparisons between male and female pools did not reveal significant sex-linked genes. Consequently, we employed an alignment-free k-mer comparison which enabled us to identify a large number of male-specific k-mers. We assembled male-specific contigs comprising a total of almost 2 Mb sequence, proposing a XY sex-determination system in the species. We were able to identify the potential Y chromosome in the A. palmeri draft genome sequence as 90% of our male-specific sequence aligned to a single scaffold. Based on our findings, we suggest an intermediate evolutionary state of dioecy with a young Y chromosome in A. palmeri. Our findings give insight into the evolution of sex chromosomes in plants and may help to develop sustainable strategies for weed management.

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