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How bearded dragons switch their sex

Extreme temperatures might mess with RNA from two genes

By
2:07pm, June 14, 2017
Australian bearded dragons

SEX SWAP Australian bearded dragons (one shown) have two chromosomes that determine their sex. But high incubation temperatures during development can override that information, turning genetically male dragons into functional females.

When things get hot, embryonic bearded dragon lizards turn female — and now scientists might know why. New analyses, reported online June 14 in Science Advances, reveal that temperature-induced changes in RNA’s protein-making instructions might set off this sex switch. The findings might also apply to other reptile species whose sex is influenced by temperature.

Unlike most mammals, many species of reptiles and fish don’t have sex chromosomes. Instead, they develop into males at certain temperatures and females at others.

Bearded dragon lizards are an unusual case because chromosome combinations and temperature are known to influence sex determination, says ecologist Clare Holleley of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Canberra, Australia (

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