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Title: The evolution, ecology and genetics of sex determination in Mercurialis annua
Author: Russell, John R. W.
ISNI:       0000 0004 2745 4096
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2012
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The allocation of resources to male or female progeny, or to male or female reproductive function more generally, is one of the most important life history decisions a sexually reproducing individual must ever make. Sex determination is thus a fundamental process, yet the mechanisms which control it are surprisingly diverse. In this thesis, I examine sex determination in the plant species Mercurialis annua L. (Euphorbiaceae). I assess the mechanism of sex determination operating in dioecious and androdioecious populations of M. annua and also investigate the conservation and evolution of sex-determining mechanisms across the annual mercury clade, the lineages of which display exceptional variation in sexual system. First, using crosses, I establish that sex in dioecious M. annua is controlled by a single-locus genetic mechanism, consistent with recent work that identified a single male-linked DNA marker in the species. My search for new sex-linked genes revealed none, however, suggesting that M. annua possesses at most a small non-recombining region around sex-determining loci. Why many dioecious plants lack heteromorphic sex chromosomes is still poorly understood and I consider explanations for this. I extend my investigation by comparing genetic diversity between loci that differ in their linkage to the sex-determining locus. I find a single male-linked marker to possess significantly lower diversity than autosomal loci, but no difference in the diversity of partially sex-linked and non-sex-linked genes. I also assess the conservation of a sex-linked marker among annual mercury lineages and conduct crosses between lineages to examine the conservation of sex determination. My findings indicate a conserved mechanism of single-locus genetic sex determination and I consider the role polyploidisation and hybridisation have played in sexual system evolution and the modification of sex-determining mechanisms in the clade. Finally, I assess the presence of environmental sex determination in androdioecious M. annua, concluding that although male frequency is not influenced by growing density, a degree of sexual lability exists in the lineage.
Supervisor: Pannell, John R.; Filatov, Dmitry A. Sponsor: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Biology ; Genetics (life sciences) ; Plant Sciences ; Evolution,ecology and systematics ; sex determination ; sex chromosome evolution ; sex allocation ; sex ratio ; environmental sex determination ; dioecy ; monoecy ; androdioecy ; polyploidy ; hybridisation ; Mercurialis annua