Y chromosomes are widely believed to evolve from a normal autosome through a process of massive gene loss (with preservation of some male genes), shaped by sex-antagonistic selection and complemented by occasional gains of male-related genes. The net result of these processes is a male-specialized chromosome. This might be expected to be an irreversible process, but it was found in 2005 that the Drosophila pseudoobscura Y chromosome was incorporated into an autosome. Y chromosome incorporations have important consequences: a formerly male-restricted chromosome reverts to autosomal inheritance, and the species may shift from an XY/XX to X0/XX sex-chromosome system. In order to assess the frequency and causes of this phenomenon we searched for Y chromosome incorporations in 400 species from Drosophila and related genera. We found one additional large scale event of Y chromosome incorporation, affecting the whole montium subgroup (40 species in our sample); overall 13% of the sampled species (52/400) have Y incorporations. While previous data indicated that after the Y incorporation the ancestral Y disappeared as a free chromosome, the much larger data set analyzed here indicates that a copy of the Y survived as a free chromosome both in montium and pseudoobscura species, and that the current Y of the pseudoobscura lineage results from a fusion between this free Y and the neoY. The 400 species sample also showed that the previously suggested causal connection between X-autosome fusions and Y incorporations is, at best, weak: the new case of Y incorporation (montium) does not have X-autosome fusion, whereas nine independent cases of X-autosome fusions were not followed by Y incorporations. Y incorporation is an underappreciated mechanism affecting Y chromosome evolution; our results show that at least in Drosophila it plays a relevant role and highlight the need of similar studies in other groups.
Journal: PLoS genetics