A male-specific sex marker for the endangered western sawshelled turtle (Myuchelys bellii) using in silico whole-genome subtraction

Duminda S.B. Dissanayake, Louise M. Streeting, Arthur Georges, Deborah S. Bower

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Artificial incubation of eggs for the mass release of hatchlings is a common conservation intervention for imperilled turtle species. Programs designed to reinforce wild populations need to ensure that they are releasing appropriate male to female ratios into the wild. In many turtle species, the sex of juveniles cannot be identified using external morphology until they approach sexual maturity. For the endangered western sawshelled turtle, Myuchelys bellii, sexual dimorphism does not occur until at least 6 years of age. We aimed to develop a molecular test to identify the sex of M. bellii during the life stages where they cannot be sexed morphologically—embryos, hatchlings and small juveniles. We used in silico whole-genome subtraction of a female M. bellii (XX) from a male (XY) to identify a Y chromosome-specific sequence which we characterized and developed into a PCR sex test. Our research is the first to use a whole-genome subtraction method in-silico to successfully establish sex chromosome markers in a freshwater turtle species. Developing this technology provides an opportunity for conservation programs to ensure that populations are supplemented with a proportionate number of male and female hatchlings. Further, it allows large scale measurement of naturally occurring sex ratios in hatchlings and small juveniles, which in turn enables estimates of sex ratios within wild populations free from age-at-maturity bias. The application of sex-specific marker technology also provides an opportunity to quantify the influence of sex on behaviour, movement and survival in the segment of populations that cannot be morphologically sexed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)231-236
Number of pages6
JournalConservation Genetics Resources
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022


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