The inter-specific hybrid Silene latifolia x S-viscosa reveals early events of sex chromosome evolution
The dioecious plant species Silene latifolia has a sex determination mechanism based on an active Y chromosome. Here, we used inter-specific hybrids in the genus Silene to study the effects of gene complexes on the Y chromosome. If the function of Y-linked genes has been maintained in the same state as in the hermaphrodite progenitor species, it should be possible to substitute such genes by genes coming from a related hermaphrodite species. In the inter-specific hybrid, S. latifoliaxS. viscosa, anthers indeed develop far beyond the early bilobal stage characteristic of XX S. latifolia female plants. The S. viscosa genome can thus replace the key sex determination gene whose absence abolishes early stamen development in females (loss of the stamen-promoting function, SPF), so that hybrid plants are morphologically hermaphrodite. However, the hybrids have two anther development defects, loss of adhesion of the tapetum to the endothecium, and precocious endothecium maturation. Both these defects were also found in independent Y-chromosome deletion mutants of S. latifolia. The data support the hypothesis that the evolution of complete gender dimorphism from hermaphroditism involved a major largely recessive male-sterility factor that created females, and the appearance of new, dominant genes on the Y chromosome, including both the well-documented gynoecium-suppressing factor, and two other Y specific genes promoting anther development.