The preprint on the genomics of the male-determining, Y chromosome-like M locus in the mosquito Aedes aegypti is now published in the journal Parasites & Vectors.
In this study, we searched a bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC) library of the mosquito genome for the previously identified male gene Nix, and sequenced a small portion of the surrounding DNA. This allowed us to decipher more of the nature of this mysterious section of the genome.
Aedes aegypti is the principal vector of several important arboviruses. Among the methods of vector control to limit transmission of disease are genetic strategies that involve the release of sterile or genetically modified non-biting males, which has generated interest in manipulating mosquito sex ratios. Sex determination in Ae. aegypti is controlled by a non-recombining Y chromosome-like region called the M locus, yet characterisation of this locus has been thwarted by the repetitive nature of the genome. In 2015, an M locus gene named Nix was identified that displays the qualities of a sex determination switch.
With the use of a whole-genome bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC) library, we amplified and sequenced a ~200 kb region containing the male-determining gene Nix. In this study, we show that Nix is comprised of two exons separated by a 99 kb intron primarily composed of repetitive DNA, especially transposable elements.
Nix, an unusually large and highly repetitive gene, exhibits features in common with Y chromosome genes in other organisms. We speculate that the lack of recombination at the M locus has allowed the expansion of repeats in a manner characteristic of a sex-limited chromosome, in accordance with proposed models of sex chromosome evolution in insects.