Dosage compensation, the origin and the afterlife of sex chromosomes

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Abstract

Over the past 100 years Drosophila has been developed into an outstanding model system for the study of evolutionary processes. A fascinating aspect of evolution is the differentiation of sex chromosomes. Organisms with highly differentiated sex chromosomes, such as the mammalian X and Y, must compensate for the imbalance in gene dosage that this creates. The need to adjust the expression of sex-linked genes is a potent force driving the rise of regulatory mechanisms that act on an entire chromosome. This review will contrast the process of dosage compensation in Drosophila with the divergent strategies adopted by other model organisms. While the machinery of sex chromosome compensation is different in each instance, all share the ability to direct chromatin modifications to an entire chromosome. This review will also explore the idea that chromosome-targeting systems are sometimes adapted for other purposes. This appears the likely source of a chromosome-wide targeting system displayed by the Drosophila fourth chromosome.

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