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A sex-determination system is a biological system that determines the development of sexual characteristics in an organism. Most sexual organisms have two sexes. In many cases, sex determination is genetic: males and females have different alleles or even different genes that specify their sexual morphology. In animals, this is often accompanied by chromosomal differences. In other cases, sex is determined by environmental variables (such as temperature) or social variables (the size of an organism relative to other members of its population). The details of some sex-determination systems are not yet fully understood.


Chromosomal determination

XX/XY sex chromosomes

The XX/XY sex-determination system is the most familiar sex-determination systems, as it is found in human beings, most other mammals, as well as some insects. However, at least one monotreme, the platypus, presents a particular sex determination scheme that in some ways resembles that of the ZW sex chromosomes of birds, and also lacks the SRY gene, whereas some rodents, such as several Arvicolinae (voles and lemmings), are also noted for their unusual sex determination systems. The platypus has ten sex chromosomes; males have an XYXYXYXYXY pattern while females have ten X chromosomes. Although it is an XY system, the platypus' sex chromosomes share no homologues with eutherian sex chromosomes.[1]. Instead, homologues with eutherian sex chromosomes lie on the platypus chromosome 6, which means that the eutherian sex chromosomes were autosomes at the time that the monotremes diverged from the therian mammals (marsupials and eutherian mammals). However, homologues to the avian DMRT1 gene on platypus sex chromosomes X3 and X5 and suggest that its possible the sex-determining gene for the platypus is the same one that is involved in bird sex-determination. However, more research must be conducted in order to determine the exact sex determining gene of the platypus.[2].

In the XY sex-determination system, females have two of the same kind of sex chromosome (XX), while males have two distinct sex chromosomes (XY). Some species (including humans) have a gene SRY on the Y chromosome that determines maleness; others (such as the fruit fly) use the presence of two X chromosomes to determine femaleness. The XY sex chromosomes are different in shape and size from each other unlike the autosomes, and are termed allosomes.

XX/X0 sex determination

In this variant of the XY system, females have two copies of the sex chromosome (XX) but males have only one (X0). The 0 denotes the absence of a second sex chromosome. This system is observed in a number of insects, including the grasshoppers and crickets of order Orthoptera and in cockroaches (order Blattodea).

The nematode C. elegans is male with one sex chromosome (X0); with a pair of chromosomes (XX) it is a hermaphrodite.

ZW sex chromosomes

The ZW sex-determination system is found in birds and some insects and other organisms. The ZW sex-determination system is reversed compared to the XY system: females have two different kinds of chromosomes (ZW), and males have two of the same kind of chromosomes (ZZ). In the chicken, this was found to be dependent on the expression of DMRT1.[3]


Haplodiploidy is found in insects belonging to Hymenoptera, such as ants and bees. Unfertilized eggs develop into haploid individuals, which are the males. Diploid individuals are generally female but may be sterile males. Thus, if a queen bee mates with one drone, her daughters share ¾ of their genes with each other, not ½ as in the XY and ZW systems. This is believed to be significant for the development of eusociality, as it increases the significance of kin selection. This is common also in wasps that are parasitic and in the male greenflies.

Non-genetic sex-determination systems

Many other sex-determination systems exist. In some species of reptiles, including alligators, some turtles, and the tuatara, sex is determined by the temperature at which the egg is incubated. Some species, such as some snails, practice sex change: adults start out male, then become female. In tropical clown fish, the dominant individual in a group becomes female while the other ones are male, and blue wrasse fish are the reverse. In the marine worm Bonellia viridis, larvae become males if they make physical contact with the female, and females if they end up on the bare sea floor.

Some species, however, have no sex-determination system. Hermaphrodites include the common earthworm and certain species of snails. A few species of fish, reptiles, and insects reproduce by parthenogenesis and are female altogether.

In some arthropods, sex is determined by infection, as when Bacteria of the genus Wolbachia alter their sexuality; some species consist entirely of ZZ individuals, with sex determined by the presence of Wolbachia.

Other unusual systems (this section is still being researched):

See also


  1. ^ Warren, W.C. (2008). "How did the platypus get its sex chromosome chain? A comparison of meiotic multiples and sex chromosomes in plants and animals". Nature 453: 175-U1. 
  2. ^ Gruetzner, F., T. Ashley, D. M. Rowell, and J. A. M. Graves. (2006). "Analysis of the platypus reveals unique signatures of evolution". Chromosoma 115: 75–88. 
  3. ^ Smith CA, Roeszler KN, Ohnesorg T, et al. (September 2009). "The avian Z-linked gene DMRT1 is required for male sex determination in the chicken". Nature 461 (7261): 267–71. doi:10.1038/nature08298. PMID 19710650. 
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Explore the Platypus genome". Ensembl. 2006-11. Retrieved 19 January 2007. 

Further reading

Sex chromosomes and sex determination in amniotes

Sex determination in insects

Sex determination in plants


  • Bainbridge, David A. (2003). The X in sex: how the X chromosome controls our lives. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-01028-0. 

External links

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