Heteroduplex molecules cause sexing errors in a standard molecular protocol for avian sexing


Samantha M. Wisely, Fax: (785) 532-6653; E-mail: wisely@ksu.edu


Molecular methods are a necessary tool for sexing monomorphic birds. These molecular approaches are usually reliable, but sexing protocols should be evaluated carefully because biochemical interactions may lead to errors. We optimized laboratory protocols for genetic sexing of a monomorphic shorebird, the upland sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda), using two independent sets of primers, P2/P8 and 2550F/2718R, to amplify regions of the sex-linked CHD-Z and CHD-W genes. We discovered polymorphisms in the region of the CHD-Z intron amplified by the primers P2/P8 which caused four males to be misidentified as females (n = 90 mated pairs). We cloned and sequenced one CHD-W allele (370 bp) and three CHD-Z alleles in our population: Z° (335 bp), Z (331 bp) and Z″ (330 bp). Normal (Z°Z°) males showed one band in agarose gel analysis and were easily differentiated from females (Z°W), which showed two bands. However, males heterozygous for CHD-Z alleles (Z′Z″) unexpectedly showed two bands in a pattern similar to females. While the Z′ and Z″ fragments contained only short deletions, they annealed together during the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) process and formed heteroduplex molecules that were similar in size to the W fragment. Errors previously reported for molecular sex-assignment have usually been due to allelic dropout, causing females to be misidentified as males. Here, we report evidence that events in PCRs can lead to the opposite error, with males misidentified as females. We recommend use of multiple primer sets and large samples of known-sex birds for validation when designing protocols for molecular sex analysis.