Indexed on: 14 Nov '14Published on: 14 Nov '14Published in: Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society
Most animals and many plants make use of specialized chromosomes (sex chromosomes) to determine an individual's sex. Best known are the XY and ZW sex-determination systems. Despite having evolved numerous times, sex chromosomes present something of an evolutionary puzzle. At their origin, alleles that dictate development as one sex or the other (primitive sex chromosomes) face a selective penalty, as they will be found more often in the more abundant sex. How is it possible that primitive sex chromosomes overcome this disadvantage? Any theory for the origin of sex chromosomes must identify the benefit that outweighs this cost and enables a sex-determining mutation to establish in the population. Here we show that a new sex-determining allele succeeds when linked to a sex-specific meiotic driver. The new sex-determining allele benefits from confining the driving allele to the sex in which it gains the benefit of drive. Our model requires few special assumptions and is sufficiently general to apply to the evolution of sex chromosomes in outbreeding cosexual or dioecious species. We highlight predictions of the model that can discriminate between this and previous theories of sex-chromosome origins.