Sex chromosomes can display successive steps of recombination suppression known as "evolutionary strata," which are thought to result from the successive linkage of sexually antagonistic genes to sex-determining genes. However, there is little evidence to support this explanation. Here we investigate whether evolutionary strata can evolve without sexual antagonism using fungi that display suppressed recombination extending beyond loci determining mating compatibility despite lack of male/female roles associated with their mating types. By comparing full-length chromosome assemblies from five anther-smut fungi with or without recombination suppression in their mating-type chromosomes, we inferred the ancestral gene order and derived chromosomal arrangements in this group. This approach shed light on the chromosomal fusion underlying the linkage of mating-type loci in fungi and provided evidence for multiple clearly resolved evolutionary strata over a range of ages (0.9-2.1 million years) in mating-type chromosomes. Several evolutionary strata did not include genes involved in mating-type determination. The existence of strata devoid of mating-type genes, despite the lack of sexual antagonism, calls for a unified theory of sex-related chromosome evolution, incorporating, for example, the influence of partially linked deleterious mutations and the maintenance of neutral rearrangement polymorphism due to balancing selection on sexes and mating types.
Journal: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America