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Open Access Research article

Independent Origins of New Sex-Linked Chromosomes in the melanica and robusta Species Groups of Drosophila

Sergio V Flores, Amy L Evans and Bryant F McAllister*

Author Affiliations

Department of Biological Sciences & Roy J. Carver Center for Comparative Genomics, 143 Biology Building, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242, USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2008, 8:33  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-33

Published: 29 January 2008



Recent translocations of autosomal regions to the sex chromosomes represent important systems for identifying the evolutionary forces affecting convergent patterns of sex-chromosome heteromorphism. Additions to the sex chromosomes have been reported in the melanica and robusta species groups, two sister clades of Drosophila. The close relationship between these two species groups and the similarity of their rearranged karyotypes motivates this test of alternative hypotheses; the rearranged sex chromosomes in both groups are derived through a common origin, or the rearrangements are derived through at least two independent origins. Here we examine chromosomal arrangement in representatives of the melanica and the robusta species groups and test these alternative hypotheses using a phylogenetic approach.


Two mitochondrial and two nuclear gene sequences were used to reconstruct phylogenetic relationships of a set of nine ingroup species having fused and unfused sex chromosomes and representing a broad sample of both species groups. Different methods of phylogenetic inference, coupled with concurrent cytogenetic analysis, indicate that the hypothesis of independent origins of rearranged sex chromosomes within each species group is significantly more likely than the alternative hypothesis of a single common origin. An estimate tightly constrained around 8 My was obtained for the age of the rearranged sex chromosomes in the melanica group; however, a more loosely constrained estimate of 10–15 My was obtained for the age of the rearrangement in the robusta group.


Independent acquisition of new chromosomal arms by the sex chromosomes in the melanica and robusta species groups represents a case of striking convergence at the karyotypic level. Our findings indicate that the parallel divergence experienced by newly sex-linked genomic regions in these groups represents an excellent system for studying the tempo of sex chromosome evolution.