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Science 302 (5647): 1046-1049

Copyright © 2003 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Roles for Mating and Environment in C. elegans Sex Determination

Veena Prahlad,1 Dave Pilgrim,2 Elizabeth B. Goodwin1*

Abstract: In Caenorhabditis elegans the two sexes, hermaphrodites and males, are thought to be irreversibly determined at fertilization by the ratio of X chromosomes to sets of autosomes: XX embryos develop as hermaphrodites and XO embryos as males. We show instead that both sex and genotype of C. elegans can be altered postembryonically and that this flexibility requires sexual reproduction. When grown in specific bacterial metabolites, some XX larvae generated by mating males and hermaphrodites develop as males and lose one X chromosome. However, XX larvae produced by hermaphrodite self-fertilization show no such changes. We propose that sexual reproduction increases developmental flexibility of progeny, allowing for better adaptation to changing environments.

1 Genetics Department, University of Wisconsin, 445 Henry Mall, Madison, WI 53706, USA.
2 Department of Biological Sciences, CW 405, Biological Sciences Centre, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, T6G 2E9, Canada.

* To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: goodwin{at}

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