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Christopher Blackwell
Embryos kill off male tissue to become female
Sat Nov 25, 2017 6:03pm

Embryos kill off male tissue to become female
A study in mice identifies a protein crucial to developing as a girl
Tina Hesman Saey
2:17pm, August 17, 2017

A protein called COUP-TFII is necessary to eliminate male reproductive tissue from female mouse embryos, researchers report in the Aug. 18 Science. For decades, females have been considered the “default” sex in mammals. The new research overturns that idea, showing that making female reproductive organs is an active process that involves dismantling a primitive male tissue called the Wolffian duct.

In males, the Wolffian duct develops into the parts needed to ejaculate sperm, including the epididymis, vas deferens and seminal vesicles. In females, a similar embryonic tissue called the Müllerian duct develops into the fallopian tubes, uterus and vagina. Both duct tissues are present in early embryos.

A study by French endocrinologist Alfred Jost 70 years ago indicated that the testes make testosterone and an anti-Müllerian hormone to maintain the Wolffian duct and suppress female tissue development. If those hormones are missing, the Wolffian duct degrades and an embryo by default develops as female, Jost proposed.

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