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Open Access Methodology article

Fast and non-invasive PCR sexing of primates: apes, Old World monkeys, New World monkeys and Strepsirrhines

Palle Villesen1* and Tina Fredsted2

  • * Corresponding author: Palle Villesen

  • † Equal contributors

Author affiliations

1 Bioinformatics Research Center (BiRC), University of Aarhus, H. Guldbergsgade 10, building 1090, DK-8000 Aarhus C, Denmark

2 Department of Ecology and Genetics, Institute of Biological Sciences, University of Aarhus, Ny Munkegade, building 1540, DK-8000 Aarhus C, Denmark

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Citation and License

BMC Ecology 2006, 6:8  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-6-8

Published: 8 June 2006



One of the key tools for determining the social structure of wild and endangered primates is the ability to sex DNA from small amounts of non-invasive samples that are likely to include highly degraded DNA. Traditional markers for molecular sex determination of primates are developed on the basis of the human sequence and are often non-functional in distantly related primate species. Hence, it is highly desirable to develop markers that simultaneously detect Y- and X-chromosome specific sequences and also work across many species.


A novel method for sex identification in primates is described using a triple primer PCR reaction and agarose gel electrophoresis of the sex-chromosomal isoforms of the ubiquitously transcribed tetratricopeptide repeat protein gene (UTX/UTY). By comparing genomic data from several mammals we identified the UTX/UTY locus as the best candidate for a universal primate sexing marker. Using data from several species we identified a XY-conserved region, a Y conserved region and an X conserved region. This enabled the design of a triple primer PCR setup that amplifies X and Y products of different length in a single PCR reaction.


This simple PCR amplification of X and Y fragments is useful for sexing DNA samples from all species of primates. Furthermore, since the amplified fragments are very short the method can be applied to fragmented DNA extracted from non-invasive samples.