Last week, I was lucky enough to attend the Genetics Society of AustralAsia 2012 conference as an undergraduate volunteer. One of the fascinating presentations I had the pleasure of sitting in on was given by mammalian geneticist Jenny Graves, on the evolution of genetic sex determination in vertebrates – and, like many a talk at GSA2012, I livetweeted it. Somehow, that got back to the fine folk at COSMOS, a well-respected Australian science magazine, and I was asked if I would like to write a news piece on Graves’ talk.
I said “Yes!”, but I really wanted to say “Absosplendifferolutely!”, because I’m a dork.
After a few rounds of editing, the piece grew into a feature article for the online component of the magazine, and so… here it is! I present to you: “The elaborate evolutionary history of sex” for COSMOS Online – my first professional1 piece of science writing!
Here’s a short taste:
“I think everybody thought ‘Okay, problem solved, we’ve got the gene, everything else is going to be obvious,’” says Jenny Graves, a mammalian geneticist at the La Trobe Institute of Molecular Science in Melbourne, Australia, who gave a plenary speech at the annual Genetics Society of AustralAsia conference, held 15-18 July 2012.
“But the minute you get out from placental mammals, you strike all sorts of other ways of doing sex determination. Each one is a really interesting evolutionary story,” she says.
In 2008, Graves and her colleagues showed that the SRY gene and the X and Y chromosome system of determining sex had evolved less than 166 million years ago, from an ancient bird-like system for determining sex. This was much more recent than previously thought: earlier hypotheses placed the evolution of the X and Y system at least as far back as 310 million years ago, at the divergence point of mammals, reptiles and birds.
Excuse me, I’ll just be subtly dancing with pride and happiness in the corner over there. Look away.
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- Read: paid/fancy-pants. ↩