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The diversity and dynamics of sex determination in dioecious plants

The diversity of inflorescences among flowering plants is captivating. Such charm is not only due to the variety of sizes, shapes, colors, and flowers displayed, but also to the range of reproductive systems. For instance, hermaphrodites occur abundantly throughout the plant kingdom with both stamens and carpels within the same flower. Nevertheless, 10% of flowering plants have separate unisexual flowers, either indifferent locations of the same individual (monoecy) or on different individuals (dioecy). Despite their rarity, dioecious plants provide an excellent opportunity to investigate the mechanisms involved in sex expression and the evolution of sex-determining regions (SDRs) and sex chromosomes. The SDRs and the evolution of dioecy have been studied in many species ranging from Ginkgo to important fruit crops. Some of these studies, for example in asparagus or kiwifruit, identified two sex-determining genes within the non-recombining SDR and may thus be consistent with the classical model for the evolution of dioecy from hermaphroditism via gynodioecy, that predicts two successive mutations, the first one affecting male and the second one female function, becoming linked in a region of suppressed recombination. On the otherhand, aided by genome sequencing and gene editing, single factor sex determination has emerged in other species, such as persimmon or poplar. Despite the diversity of sex-determining mechanisms, a tentative comparative analysis of the known sex-determining genes and candidates in different species suggests that similar genes and pathways may be employed repeatedly for the evolution of dioecy. The cytokinin signaling pathway appears important for sex determination in several species regardless of the underlying genetic system. Additionally, tapetum-related genes often seem to act as male-promoting factors when sex is determined via two genes. We present a unified model that synthesizes the genetic networks of sex determination in monoecious and dioecious plants and will support the generation of hypothesis regarding candidate sex determinants in future studies.



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