BACKGROUND : A common feature of most genetic sex-determination systems studied so far is that sex is determined by nonrecombining genomic regions, which can be of various sizes depending on the species. These regions have evolved independently and repeatedly across diverse groups. A number of such sex-determining regions (SDRs) have been studied in animals, plants, and fungi, but very little is known about the evolution of sexes in other eukaryotic lineages.
RESULTS : We report here the sequencing and genomic analysis of the SDR of Ectocarpus, a brown alga that has been evolving independently from plants, animals, and fungi for over one giga-annum. In Ectocarpus, sex is expressed during the haploid phase of the life cycle, and both the female (U) and the male (V) sex chromosomes contain nonrecombining regions. The U and V of this species have been diverging for more than 70 mega-annum, yet gene degeneration has been modest, and the SDR is relatively small, with no evidence for evolutionary strata. These features may be explained by the occurrence of strong purifying selection during the haploid phase of the life cycle and the low level of sexual dimorphism. V is dominant over U, suggesting that femaleness may be the default state, adopted when the male haplotype is absent.
CONCLUSIONS : The Ectocarpus UV system has clearly had a distinct evolutionary trajectory not only to the well-studied XY and ZW systems but also to the UV systems described so far. Nonetheless, some striking similarities exist, indicating remarkable universality of the underlying processes shaping sex chromosome evolution across distant lineages.