Developmental dynamics of sex reprogramming by high incubation temperatures in a dragon lizard

Sarah L. Whiteley, Clare E. Holleley, Arthur Georges

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
52 Downloads (Pure)


Background: In some vertebrate species, gene-environment interactions can determine sex, driving bipotential gonads to differentiate into either ovaries or testes. In the central bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps), the genetic influence of sex chromosomes (ZZ/ZW) can be overridden by high incubation temperatures, causing ZZ male to female sex reversal. Previous research showed ovotestes, a rare gonadal phenotype with traits of both sexes, develop during sex reversal, leading to the hypothesis that sex reversal relies on high temperature feminisation to outcompete the male genetic cue. To test this, we conducted temperature switching experiments at key developmental stages, and analysed the effect on gonadal phenotypes using histology and transcriptomics. Results: We found sexual fate is more strongly influenced by the ZZ genotype than temperature. Any exposure to low temperatures (28 °C) caused testes differentiation, whereas sex reversal required longer exposure to high temperatures. We revealed ovotestes exist along a spectrum of femaleness to male-ness at the transcriptional level. We found inter-individual variation in gene expression changes following temperature switches, suggesting both genetic sensitivity to, and the timing and duration of the temperature cue influences sex reversal. Conclusions: These findings bring new insights to the mechanisms underlying sex reversal, improving our understanding of thermosensitive sex systems in vertebrates.

Original languageEnglish
Article number322
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalBMC Genomics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


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