A Gene for Sexual Switching in Melons Provides Clues to the Evolution of Sex


A newly discovered function for a hormone in melons suggests it plays a role in how sexual systems evolve in plants. The study, conducted by French and American scientists, appears in the latest issue of the journal Science.

Scientists from several French institutions, led by Abdel Bendahmane of the National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), isolated the melon sex determination gene and determined its function. As part of this collaborative effort, New York University biologists Jonathan Flowers and Michael Purugganan, who are part of NYU’s Center for Genomics and Systems Biology, conducted the evolutionary analysis of the study

Because plants’ sexual systems are varied-species may possess various combinations of male, female, or hermaphrodite systems-their evolution has long been of interest to scientists. This is especially the case in melons, whose sexual system-andromonoecy-carries both male and bisexual flowers and appears to have evolved recently. In this study, the researchers sought to understand what determines the recent formation of melons’ new sexual system.

“If we can understand how different sexual systems in plants have evolved, we can then begin to understand how sex in general evolves,” explained Purugganan.

The researchers focused on the role played by the hormone ethylene, which is known to help fruit ripen. The French group determined that an enzyme involved in making this gaseous hormone is also involved in the evolution of 500

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