My colleagues, Michail Rovatsos, Peter Praschag, Uwe Fritz & Lukáš Kratochvíl have identified differentiated ZZ/ZW sex chromosomes in two species of the softshell turtles (Trionychidae) and Z-specific genes were identified in one of these species. Our knowledge of sex chromosome genes is growing rapidly across a range of reptile species, and so much closer is the discovery of a sex determining gene in a reptile.
Abstract: Turtles demonstrate variability in sex determination ranging from environmental sex determination (ESD) to highly differentiated sex chromosomes. However, the evolutionary dynamics of sex determining systems in this group is not well known. Differentiated ZZ/ZW sex chromosomes were identified in two species of the softshell turtles (Trionychidae) from the subfamily Trionychinae and Z-specific genes were identified in a single species. We tested Z-specificity of a subset of these genes by quantitative PCR comparing copy gene numbers in male and female genomes in 10 species covering the phylogenetic diversity of trionychids. We demonstrated that differentiated ZZ/ZW sex chromosomes are conserved across the whole family and that they were already present in the common ancestor of the extant trionychids. As the sister lineage, Carettochelys insculpta, possess ESD, we can date the origin of the sex chromosomes in trionychids between 200 Mya (split of Trionychidae and Carettochelyidae) and 120 Mya (basal splitting of the recent trionychids). The results support the evolutionary stability of differentiated sex chromosomes in some lineages of ectothermic vertebrates. Moreover, our approach determining sex-linkage of protein coding genes can be used as a reliable technique of molecular sexing across trionychids useful for effective breeding strategy in conservation projects of endangered species.