Temporal genomic evolution of bird sex chromosomes

Research output: Journal Publications and ReviewsRGC 21 - Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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  • Zongji Wang
  • Wei Yang
  • Na An
  • Pei Zhang
  • Guojie Zhang
  • Qi Zhou


Original languageEnglish
Article number250
Journal / PublicationBMC Evolutionary Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes



Background: Sex chromosomes exhibit many unusual patterns in sequence and gene expression relative to autosomes. Birds have evolved a female heterogametic sex system (male ZZ, female ZW), through stepwise suppression of recombination between chrZ and chrW. To address the broad patterns and complex driving forces of Z chromosome evolution, we analyze here 45 newly available bird genomes and four species' transcriptomes, over their course of recombination loss between the sex chromosomes. Results: We show Z chromosomes in general have a significantly higher substitution rate in introns and synonymous protein-coding sites than autosomes, driven by the male-to-female mutation bias ('male-driven evolution' effect). Our genome-wide estimate reveals that the degree of such a bias ranges from 1.6 to 3.8 among different species. G + C content of third codon positions exhibits the same trend of gradual changes with that of introns, between chrZ and autosomes or regions with increasing ages of becoming Z-linked, therefore codon usage bias in birds is probably driven by the mutational bias. On the other hand, Z chromosomes also evolve significantly faster at nonsynonymous sites relative to autosomes ('fast-Z' evolution). And species with a lower level of intronic heterozygosities tend to evolve even faster on the Z chromosome. Further analysis of fast-evolving genes' enriched functional categories and sex-biased expression patterns support that, fast-Z evolution in birds is mainly driven by genetic drift. Finally, we show in species except for chicken, gene expression becomes more male-biased within Z-linked regions that have became hemizygous in females for a longer time, suggesting a lack of global dosage compensation in birds, and the reported regional dosage compensation in chicken has only evolved very recently. Conclusions: In conclusion, we uncover that the sequence and expression patterns of Z chromosome genes covary with their ages of becoming Z-linked. In contrast to the mammalian X chromosomes, such patterns are mainly driven by mutational bias and genetic drift in birds, due to the opposite sex-biased inheritance of Z vs. X.

Research Area(s)

  • Avian genome, Dosage compensation, Evolutionary strata, Fast-Z evolution, Male-driven evolution

Bibliographic Note

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Citation Format(s)

Temporal genomic evolution of bird sex chromosomes. / Wang, Zongji; Zhang, Jilin; Yang, Wei et al.
In: BMC Evolutionary Biology, Vol. 14, No. 1, 250, 2014.

Research output: Journal Publications and ReviewsRGC 21 - Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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