[S]eparate sexes may seem fundamental to nature, but they’re an oddity for most plants. Now, scientists have figured out how strawberries …. made their recent transition to male and female. The unusual “jumping” genes responsible could mean sex differences can change faster in plants than anyone realized.
Animals have ancient sex chromosomes with a common origin. But in plants, sex chromosomes have arisen only …. in the last few million years, and most plants are generally hermaphrodites …. Strawberries, as one uneducated Ohio farmer discovered in the 1840s, come in three flavors: male, female, and combo.
[E]cologist Tia-Lynn Ashman at the University of Pittsburgh …. has spent nearly 20 years showing that different locations on the strawberry genome can control sex …. Unlike humans …. strawberries have a whopping eight copies of seven chromosomes, for a grand total of 56.
Ashman’s first stroke of luck came when she and her team found the first evidence of male- and female-determining regions in an East Coast variety of a common North American wild strawberry ….
[The researchers] sequenced 60 F. virginiana and F. chiloensis plants …. to see whether any DNA was unique to the females. They asked what genetic sequence was present in all females, but absent in all males. Sure enough, all females shared a short sequence that had jumped at least twice as the plants reproduced over many generations.
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