Turtle Insights into the Evolution of the Reptilian Karyotype and the Genomic Architecture of Sex Determination
Sex chromosome evolution remains an evolutionary puzzle despite its importance in understanding sexual development and genome evolution. The seemingly random distribution of sex-determining systems in reptiles offers a unique opportunity to study sex chromosome evolution not afforded by mammals or birds. These reptilian systems derive from multiple transitions in sex determination, some independent, some convergent, that lead to the birth and death of sex chromosomes in various lineages. Here we focus on turtles, an emerging model group with growing genomic resources. We review karyotypic changes that accompanied the evolution of chromosomal systems of genotypic sex determination (GSD) in chelonians from systems under the control of environmental temperature (TSD). These transitions gave rise to 31 GSD species identified thus far (out of 101 turtles with known sex determination), 27 with a characterized sex chromosome system (13 of those karyotypically). These sex chromosomes are varied in terms of the ancestral autosome they co-opted and thus in their homology, as well as in their size (some are macro-, some are micro-chromosomes), heterogamety (some are XX/XY, some ZZ/ZW), dimorphism (some are virtually homomorphic, some heteromorphic with larger-X, larger W, or smaller-Y), age (the oldest system could be ~195 My old and the youngest < 25 My old). Combined, all data indicate that turtles follow some tenets of classic theoretical models of sex chromosome evolution while countering others. Finally, although the study of dosage compensation and molecular divergence of turtle sex chromosomes has lagged behind research on other aspects of their evolution, this gap is rapidly decreasing with the acceleration of ongoing research and growing genomic resources in this group.