Technology Temperature control for turtle sex found

02:40  11 may  2018
02:40  11 may  2018 Source:   bbc.com

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Using the Cochran–Mantel–Haenszel test to control for temperature effects on transcript levels, we found that the C allele was more common in northern Sex ratio in hatchling snapping turtles as a function of incubation temperature and population origin. Eggs were collected from natural nests in

Those turtles are a model to try to answer a key question: How does temperature determine Yet the temperature control of the sex of a hatchling is still a mystery. In a paper in the journal Sexual She found that the gene dmrt1 was the earliest gene that showed sex -specific expression in males, and

A small turtle hatchling makes its way across wet sand, leaving a trail in its wake: Loggerhead turtle hatchlings may be affected by climate change © Science Photo Library Loggerhead turtle hatchlings may be affected by climate change I

Scientists have isolated the gene responsible for temperature-controlled sex determination in turtles.

Red eared slider turtles, a common household pet, develop into male or female embryos according to their egg incubation temperature.

This little understood process is also at work in the eggs of crocodiles, alligators and some lizards.

Researchers are now one step closer to solving a mystery which has persisted for over 50 years.

Genetic 'knockout'

An international team from China and the United States used a recently refined process to "knock out" the gene they suspected to be responsible for sex determination in the turtles - known as Kdm6b.

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They found that some of the turtles carried a slightly different version of CIRBP: at a specific position in the sequence, an "A" in the four-base DNA code was substituted with a "C." "Our data suggests that multiple temperature sensors control sex by acting together.

During development, sea turtle hatchling sex is directed by temperature (Bull 1980, Mrosovsky Several controlled laboratory studies identified the temperature / sex ratio response relationship as Godfrey et al. (1996) found increased production of male hatchlings in green turtle (Chelonia mydas)

"Knockouts come in several flavours," explained Prof Blanche Capel from Duke University, an author on the study. "It usually means a genetic manipulation that deletes a gene from the genome or blocks its function."

With Kdm6b blocked, over 80% of turtles incubated at the (usually male-producing) temperature of 26C shifted their development to female.

Females usually only develop when eggs are incubated at 32C.

Dr Nicole Valenzuela from Iowa State University, who was not involved in the study, noted that the findings confirmed earlier predictions that such genes "are themselves turned on at a temperature that produces one sex and turned off at a temperature that produces the opposite sex".

Uncertain future

A red eared slider turtle sits on asphalt - it has marbled green skin with a red patch on its neck © Getty Images A red eared slider turtle sits on asphalt - it has marbled green skin with a red patch on its neck

Other recent studies have suggested that rising temperatures due to climate change could be causing a female skew in turtle populations in the wild.

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They found that some of the turtles carried a slightly different version of CIRBP: at a specific position in the sequence, an "A" in the four-base DNA code was substituted with a "C". "Our data suggests that multiple temperature sensors control sex by acting together.

Rising temperatures were first identified as a concern for sea turtle populations in the early 1980s as the temperature at which sea turtle embryos incubate determines the sex of an individual, which is known as Temperature -Dependent Sex Determination (TSD).

Hatchling mortality could also increase if nests remain at high temperatures for long periods of time.

Prof Capel points out that "if you're incubating at low temperature, males take almost twice as long to incubate as females."

Next, the research team hopes to figure out how embryos are measuring and reacting to the nest temperature while in the egg.

"It's clear that this gene is responding to temperature. There's something activating it and that's the next question," Prof Capel told BBC News.

Dr Valenzuela agrees, citing this work as "an important contribution to our understanding of sexual differentiation," but for her, fully deciphering the process of temperature-dependent sex determination remains "the magic bullet that has eluded scientists since its discovery over half a century ago."

The findings were published in Science.

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