Background: In the silkworm, Bombyx mori, femaleness is strongly controlled by the female-specific W chromosome. Originally, it was presumed that the W chromosome encodes female-determining gene(s), accordingly called Fem. However, to date, neither Fem nor any protein-coding gene has been identified from the W chromosome. Instead, the W chromosome is occupied with numerous transposon-related sequences. Interestingly, the silkworm W chromosome is a source of female-enriched PIWI-interacting RNAs (piRNAs). piRNAs are small RNAs of 23-30 nucleotides in length, which are required for controlling transposon activity in animal gonads. A recent study has identified a novel mutant silkworm line called KG, whose mutation in the W chromosome causes severe female masculinization. However, the molecular nature of KG line has not been well characterized yet.Results: Here we molecularly characterize the KG line. Genomic PCR analyses using currently available W chromosome-specific PCR markers indicated that no large deletion existed in the KG W chromosome. Genetic analyses demonstrated that sib-crosses within the KG line suppressed masculinization. Masculinization reactivated when crossing KG females with wild type males. Importantly, the KG ovaries exhibited a significantly abnormal transcriptome. First, the KG ovaries misexpressed testis-specific genes. Second, a set of female-enriched piRNAs was downregulated in the KG ovaries. Third, several transposons were overexpressed in the KG ovaries.Conclusions: Collectively, the mutation in the KG W chromosome causes broadly altered expression of testis-specific genes, piRNAs, and transposons. To our knowledge, this is the first study that describes a W chromosome mutant with such an intriguing phenotype.
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