A gradual process of recombination restriction in the evolutionary history of the sex chromosomes in dioecious plants
To help understand the evolution of suppressed recombination between sex chromosomes, and its consequences for evolution of the sequences of Y- linked genes, we have studied four X- Y gene pairs, including one gene not previously characterized, in plants in a group of closely related dioecious species of Silene which have an X- Y sex- determining system ( S. latifolia, S. dioica, and S. diclinis). We used the X- linked copies to build a genetic map of the X chromosomes, with a marker in the pseudoautosomal region ( PAR) to orient the map. The map covers a large part of the X chromosomes - at least 50 centimorgans. Except for a recent rearrangement in S. dioica, the gene order is the same in the X chromosomes of all three species. Silent site divergence between the DNA sequences of the X and Y copies of the different genes increases with the genes' distances from the PAR, suggesting progressive restriction of recombination between the X and Y chromosomes. This was confirmed by phylogenetic analyses of the four genes, which also revealed that the least- diverged X- Y pair could have ceased recombining independently in the dioecious species after their split. Analysis of amino acid replacements vs. synonymous changes showed that, with one possible exception, the Y- linked copies appear to be functional in all three species, but there are nevertheless some signs of degenerative processes affecting the genes that have been Y- linked for the longest times. Although the X- Y system evolved quite recently in Silene ( less than 10 million years ago) compared to mammals ( about 320 million years ago), our results suggest that similar processes have been at work in the evolution of sex chromosomes in plants and mammals, and shed some light on the molecular mechanisms suppressing recombination between X and Y chromosomes.