For over 50 years, biologists have accepted that all extant snakes share the same ZW sex chromosomes derived from a common ancestor [1, 2, 3], with different species exhibiting sex chromosomes at varying stages of differentiation. Accordingly, snakes have been a well-studied model for sex chromosome evolution in animals [1, 4]. A review of the literature, however, reveals no compelling support that boas and pythons possess ZW sex chromosomes [2, 5]. Furthermore, phylogenetic patterns of facultative parthenogenesis in snakes and a sex-linked color mutation in the ball python (Python regius) are best explained by boas and pythons possessing an XY sex chromosome system [6, 7]. Here we demonstrate that a boa (Boa imperator) and python (Python bivittatus) indeed possess XY sex chromosomes, based on the discovery of male-specific genetic markers in both species. We use these markers, along with transcriptomic and genomic data, to identify distinct sex chromosomes in boas and pythons, demonstrating that XY systems evolved independently in each lineage. This discovery highlights the dynamic evolution of vertebrate sex chromosomes and further enhances the value of snakes as a model for studying sex chromosome evolution.
Available for download on Tuesday, July 24, 2018