Sex determination in most insects is structured as a gene cascade, wherein a primary signal is passed through a series of sex-determining genes, culminating in a downstream double-switch known as doublesex that decides the sexual fate of the embryo. From the literature available on sex determination cascades, it becomes apparent that sex determination mechanisms have evolved rapidly. The primary signal that provides the cue to determine the sex of the embryo varies remarkably, not only among taxa, but also within taxa. Furthermore, the upstream key gene in the cascade also varies between species and even among closely related species. The order Insecta alone provides examples of astoundingly complex diversity of upstream key genes in sex determination mechanisms. Besides, unlike key upstream genes, the downstream double-switch gene is alternatively spliced to form functional sex-specific isoforms. This sex-specific splicing is conserved across insect taxa. The genes involved in the sex determination cascade such as Sex-lethal (Sxl) in Drosophila melanogaster, transformer (tra) in many other dipterans, coleopterans and hymenopterans, Feminizer (fem) in Apis mellifera, and IGF-II mRNA-binding protein (Bmimp) in Bombyx mori are reported to be regulated by an autoregulatory positive feedback loop. In this review, by taking examples from various insects, we propose the hypothesis that autoregulatory loop mechanisms of sex determination might be a general strategy. We also discuss the possible reasons for the evolution of autoregulatory loops in sex determination cascades and their impact on binary developmental choices.
Volume 46, 2020
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