Research from the University of Pittsburgh published in the Nov. 20 edition of the journal Heredity could finally provide evidence of the first stages of the evolution of separate sexes, a theory that holds that males and females developed from hermaphroditic ancestors. These early stages are not completely understood because the majority of animal species developed into the arguably less titillating separate-sex state too long ago for scientists to observe the transition.
However, Tia-Lynn Ashman, a plant evolutionary ecologist in the Department of Biological Sciences in Pitt’s School of Arts and Sciences, documented early separate-sex evolution in a wild strawberry species still transitioning from hermaphroditism. These findings also apply to animals (via the unified theory) and provide the first evidence in support of the theory that the establishment of separate sexes stemmed from a genetic mutation in hermaphroditic genes that led to male and female sex chromosomes. With the ability to breed but spared the inbred defects of hermaphrodites, the separate sexes flourished. – sd