Meiotic drive and sex determination: Molecular and cytological mechanisms of sex ratio adjustment in birds

Joanna Rutkowska, Alexander V. Badyaev

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

121 Scopus citations


Differences in relative fitness of male and female offspring across ecological and social environments should favour the evolution of sex-determining mechanisms that enable adjustment of brood sex ratio to the context of breeding. Despite the expectation that genetic sex determination should not produce consistent bias in primary sex ratios, extensive and adaptive modifications of offspring sex ratio in relation to social and physiological conditions during reproduction are often documented. Such discordance emphasizes the need for empirical investigation of the proximate mechanisms for modifying primary sex ratios, and suggests epigenetic effects on sex-determining mechanisms as the most likely candidates. Birds, in particular, are thought to have an unusually direct opportunity to modify offspring sex ratio because avian females are heterogametic and because the sex-determining division in avian meiosis occurs prior to ovulation and fertilization. However, despite evidence of strong epigenetic effects on sex determination in pre-ovulatory avian oocytes, the mechanisms behind such effects remain elusive. Our review of molecular and cytological mechanisms of avian meiosis uncovers a multitude of potential targets for selection on biased segregation of sex chromosomes, which may reflect the diversity of mechanisms and levels on which such selection operates in birds. Our findings indicate that pronounced differences between sex chromosomes in size, shape, size of protein bodies, alignment at the meiotic plate, microtubule attachment and epigenetic markings should commonly produce biased segregation of sex chromosomes as the default state, with secondary evolution of compensatory mechanisms necessary to maintain unbiased meiosis. We suggest that it is the epigenetic effects that modify such compensatory mechanisms that enable context-dependent and precise adjustment of primary sex ratio in birds. Furthermore, we highlight the features of avian meiosis that can be influenced by maternal hormones in response to environmental stimuli and may account for the precise and adaptive patterns of offspring sex ratio adjustment observed in some species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1675-1686
Number of pages12
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1497
StatePublished - May 12 2008


  • Avian meiosis
  • Epigenetic effects
  • Hormones
  • Maternal effects
  • Segregation distortion
  • Sex chromosomes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Meiotic drive and sex determination: Molecular and cytological mechanisms of sex ratio adjustment in birds'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this