Repeated turnovers keep sex chromosomes young in willows


Background Salicaceae species have diverse sex determination systems and frequent sex chromosome turnovers. However, compared with poplars, the diversity of sex determination in willows is poorly understood, and little is known about the evolutionary forces driving their turnover. Here, we characterized the sex determination in two Salix species, S. chaenomeloides and S. arbutifolia, which have an XY system on chromosome 7 and 15, respectively.

Results Based on the assemblies of their sex determination regions, we found that the sex determination mechanism of willows may have underlying similarities with poplars, both involving intact and/or partial homologs of a type A cytokinin response regulator (RR) gene. Comparative analyses suggested that at least two sex turnover events have occurred in Salix, one preserving the ancestral pattern of male heterogamety, and the other changing heterogametic sex from XY to ZW, which could be partly explained by the “deleterious mutation load” and “sexually antagonistic selection” theoretical models. We hypothesize that these repeated turnovers keep sex chromosomes of willow species in a perpetually young state, leading to limited degeneration.

Conclusions Our findings further improve the evolutionary trajectory of sex chromosomes in Salicaceae species, explore the evolutionary forces driving the repeated turnovers of their sex chromosomes, and provide a valuable reference for the study of sex chromosomes in other species.


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Salix, Genome, Sex determination, Sex chromosome turnover, Deleterious mutation load


Wang, D., Li, Y., Li, M. et al. Repeated turnovers keep sex chromosomes young in willows. Genome Biol 23, 200 (2022).