Recent advances in comparative genomics have considerably improved our knowledge of the evolution of mammalian karyotype architecture. One of the breakthroughs was the preferential localization of evolutionary breakpoints in regions enriched in repetitive sequences (segmental duplications, telomeres and centromeres). In this context, we investigated the contribution of ribosomal genes to genome reshuffling since they are generally located in pericentromeric or subtelomeric regions, and form repeat clusters on different chromosomes. The target model was the genus Mus which exhibits a high rate of karyotypic change, a large fraction of which involves centromeres.
The molecular signatures of the recent expansion of the western house mouse, Mus musculus domesticus, around the Mediterranean basin are investigated through the study of mitochondrial D-loop polymorphism on a 1313 individual dataset. When reducing the complexity of the matrilineal network to a series of haplogroups (HGs), our main results indicate that: (i) several HGs are recognized which seem to have almost simultaneously diverged from each other, confirming a recent expansion for the whole subspecies; (ii) some HGs are geographically delimited while others are widespread, indicative of multiple introductions or secondary exchanges; (iii) mice from the western and the eastern coasts of Africa harbour largely different sets of HGs; and (iv) HGs from the two shores of the Mediterranean are more similar in the west than in the east. This pattern is in keeping with the two-step westward expansion proposed by zooarchaeological data, an early one coincident with the Neolithic progression and limited to the eastern Mediterranean and a later one, particularly evident in the western Mediterranean, related to the generalization of maritime trade during the first millennium BC and onwards. The dispersal of mice along with humans, which continues until today, has for instance left complex footprints on the long ago colonized Cyprus or more simple ones on the much more recently populated Canary Islands.
The African pygmy mouse, Mus minutoides, displays extensive Robertsonian (Rb) diversity. The two extremes of the karyotypic range are found in South Africa, with populations carrying 2n = 34 and 2n = 18. In order to reconstruct the scenario of chromosomal evolution of M. minutoides and test the performance of Rb fusions in resolving fine-scale phylogenetic relationships, we first describe new karyotypes, and then perform phylogenetic analyses by two independent methods, using respectively mitochondrial cytochrome b sequences and chromosomal rearrangements as markers. The molecular and chromosomal phylogenies were in perfect congruence, providing strong confidence both for the tree topology and the chronology of chromosomal rearrangements. The analysis supports a division of South African specimens into two clades showing opposite trends of chromosomal evolution, one containing all specimens with 34 chromosomes (karyotypic stasis) and the other grouping all mice with 18 chromosomes that have further diversified by the fixation of different Rb fusions (extensive karyotypic reshuffling). The results confirm that Rb fusions are by far the predominant rearrangement in M. minutoides but strongly suggest that recurrent whole-arm reciprocal translocations have also shaped this genome.
Therian mammals have an extremely conserved XX/XY sex determination system. A limited number of mammal species have, however, evolved to escape convention and present aberrant sex chromosome complements. In this study, we identified a new case of atypical sex determination in the African pygmy mouse Mus minutoides, a close evolutionary relative of the house mouse. The pygmy mouse is characterized by a very high proportion of XY females (74%, n = 27) from geographically widespread Southern and Eastern African populations. Sequencing of the high mobility group domain of the mammalian sex determining gene Sry, and karyological analyses using fluorescence in situ hybridization and G-banding data, suggest that the sex reversal is most probably not owing to a mutation of Sry, but rather to a chromosomal rearrangement on the X chromosome. In effect, two morphologically different X chromosomes were identified, one of which, designated X*, is invariably associated with sex-reversed females. The asterisk designates the still unknown mutation converting X*Y individuals into females. Although relatively still unexplored, such an atypical sex chromosome system offers a unique opportunity to unravel new genetic interactions involved in the initiation of sex determination in mammals.
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