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Sexually dimorphic phenotypes are thought to largely result from sex differences in gene expression, and genes with sex-biased expression have been well characterized in adults of many species. Although most sexual dimorphisms manifest in adults, many result from sex-specific developmental trajectories, implying that juveniles may exhibit significant levels of sex-biased expression. However, it is unclear how much sex-biased expression occurs before reproductive maturity and whether preadult sex-biased genes should exhibit the same evolutionary dynamics observed for adult sex-biased genes. In order to understand the continuity, or lack thereof, and evolutionary dynamics of sex-biased expression throughout the life cycle, we examined sex-biased genes in pre-gonad tissue of two preadult stages and compared them with the adult gonad of Drosophila melanogaster. We found that the majority of the genome is sex-biased at some point in the life cycle, with some genes exhibiting conserved sex-biased expression and others displaying stage-specific sex bias. Our results also reveal a far more complex pattern of evolution for sex-biased genes throughout development. The most rapid evolutionary divergence occurred in genes expressed only in larvae within each sex, compared with continuously expressed genes. In females-but not males-this pattern appeared to be due to relaxed purifying selection in larva-limited genes. Furthermore, genes that retained male bias throughout life evolved more rapidly than stage-specific male-biased genes, due to stronger purifying selection in stage-specific genes. However, female-biased genes that were specific to larvae evolved most rapidly, a pattern that could not be definitively attributed to differences in adaptive evolution or purifying selection, suggesting that pleiotropic constraints on protein-coding sequences can arise when genes are broadly expressed across developmental stages. These results indicate that the signature of sex-specific selection can be detected well before reproductive maturity and is strongest during development.

Original publication




Journal article


Mol Biol Evol

Publication Date





1206 - 1219


development, sex-specific selection, sexual conflict, sexual dimorphism, Animals, Animals, Genetically Modified, Drosophila melanogaster, Evolution, Molecular, Female, Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental, Gene Ontology, Genes, Insect, Gonads, Male, Selection, Genetic, Sex Characteristics, Sex Differentiation