Sex Determination in Zebrafish: Genetics of Sex and wnt4a
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Effective reproduction is essential for species survival. Sexual reproduction depends upon functional gonads and reproductive ducts. Zebrafish (Danio rerio) is a popular model organism, but the genetic basis of zebrafish sex determination, gonad development, and reproductive tract development are not fully understood, and understanding this basis could inform about the evolutionary conservation of these genes and the use of zebrafish to investigate and treat reproductive diseases. In chapter I, I give a overview of sex determination systems, gonad development, and reproductive duct development in mammals and fish, and ask how sex is determined and how reproductive ducts develop in zebrafish. In chapter II, I used genome wide association studies (GWAS) to investigate if the genetic basis of sex determination in a variety of zebrafish strains -- two ‘wild-type’ strains cultured for about 30 years in the lab, and four ‘natural’ strains, wild-type strains isolated directly or recently from nature in India -- and identified a sex-associated region on zebrafish chromosome 4 in natural zebrafish strains that was lacking in the lab strains. In chapter III, I investigated whether or not wnt4a is important for zebrafish ovarian development, and found that wnt4a is expressed in the early bipotential gonad and that loss of wnt4a results in male-biased sex ratios, indicating that wnt4a is important for zebrafish ovarian development. In chapter IV, I investigated whether or not wnt4a is important for male reproductive duct development, and found that loss of wnt4a slows the formation of male reproductive ducts and prevents the male fused ducti deferens from connecting to the genital orifice in zebrafish males. Results further showed that wnt4a is expressed in tissue around the site where this connection should occur before and after the connection is formed, revealing a novel wnt4a phenotype in zebrafish that hasn’t been seen thus far, and indicating that wnt4a is necessary for proper male reproductive duct development in zebrafish. This dissertation contains both published and unpublished co-authored material.