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Researchers Discover Gender Affects Gene Expression in Mammals

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Jul 22, 2019

Researchers Discover Gender Affects Gene Expression in Mammals

Researchers have discovered genome-wide variations in gene expression between male and female mammals. Although it has been known that different genes determine different characteristics in male and females, new research suggests that differences in gene expression has a much larger impact than previously thought.

Physiological differences between mammalian genders are quite often easy to spot—in addition to organs involved in reproduction, there are skeletal and facial hair differences, as well as height differences. And many diseases also show difference between the sexes. Previously it was thought that these differences were due to the different genes male specific Y chromosome and the female specific X chromosome. However, new research has revealed that it might be due to the same genes on autosomal chromosomes being differently expressed between the sexes.

Researchers studied RNA to determine the genome wide gene expression of females and males of four mammal species; mouse, rat, dog and macaque. The species shared a common ancestor 100 million years ago and represent mammals at different stages of the evolutionary tree, so scientists could investigate if sex expression changed with evolution.

It was found that some genes were the same in both males and females but were expressed differently, known as sex bias. The scientists estimated that 12% of the height difference between men and women was determined by the differently expressed genes. The research reveals that differently expressed genes can result in different phenotypes in males and females.

The researchers also found evidence that suggested such gender-biased gene expressions came about relatively recently, evolutionarily speaking. They suggest this finding indicates that researchers need to pay particular attention to such differences when using non-human models to study gender-based differences in humans.

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