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Fungal Sex

February 12, 2008

The origins of the male Y chromosome may be revealed in a primitive fungus.


A closer look at fungal sex. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

To understand how sex evolved, researchers need to look back at the most primitive kinds of sexuality. That’s why Duke University microbiologist Joseph Heitman is studying an ancient fungus, which comes in two varieties that aren’t technically male and female, but still play distinctive roles in reproduction. Heitman and his colleagues have identified a gene that codes for a kind of protein called a transcription factor, which solely determines the fungus’ sexual type.

JOSEPH HEITMAN (Duke University):
The homologous protein that’s involved in sex determination in humans, called SRY, is a member of the same family of transcription factors.

And SRY is a key product of the human Y chromosome, which makes a person male rather than female. So tracking this protein from the primordial soup to people may explain how sex as we know it came to be. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the science society.