Physical differences between males and females in species are common, but there remains much to learn about the genetic mechanisms behind these differences.
New research by scientists at Indiana University finds that the “master gene” that regulates these differences plays a complex role in matching the right physical trait to the right sex. The study, published [Feb. 27, 2017] in the journal Nature Communications, reveals new details about the behavior of the gene called “doublesex,” or dsx.
The study is significant because it’s the first to look at the effect of dsx across the whole genome. It finds that the gene isn’t simply a “switch” that turns off certain male traits in females, as previously thought. Rather, it plays a highly complex role in controlling the expression of physical differences at different points in the genome based upon sex.
The fine-grained control that dsx exerts over male and female traits is possible because the gene acts in a surprising variety of ways…. By activating different genes in males and females, for example, it can promote male or female versions of the same trait, such as genitalia. Or, by activating the same genes in males while simultaneously inhibiting them in females, it can promote opposite traits.
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