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Picture of the Day

New Zealand study unlocks secrets of sex change in fish

A new study is heralding advances in our understanding of one of the most startling transformations in the natural world -- the complete reversal of sex that occurs in about 500 species of fish. The researchers believe that many of us take it for granted that our biological sex is fixed at birth. However, many fish, such as the clownfish from Finding Nemo, the kobudai from Blue Planet II, and the Caribbean bluehead wrasse, routinely change their sex in adulthood as a natural part of their lifecycle. Most bluehead wrasses begin life as females, but can change sex sometime later to become males -- a process that takes just 10 -- 21 days from start to finish. When a dominant male is lost from a social group, the largest female transforms into a fertile male in 10 days flat. Females begin this transformation within minutes, first changing color and displaying male-like behaviors. Her ovaries then start to regress and fully functional testes grow in their place. But how this transformation works at a genetic level has long been an enigma. Using the latest genetic approaches, high-throughput RNA-sequencing and epigenetic analyses, the researchers discovered when and how specific genes are turned off and on in the brain and gonad so that sex change can occur.

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