Among birds, species with the ZZ/ZW sex determination system generally show significant differences in morphology and size between the Z and W chromosomes (with the W usually being smaller than the Z). In the present study, we report for the first time the karyotype of the spot-flanked gallinule (Gallinula melanops) by means of classical and molecular cytogenetics. The spot-flanked gallinule has 2n = 80 (11 pairs of macrochromosomes and 29 pairs of microchromosomes) with an unusual W chromosome that is larger than the Z. Besides being totally heterochromatic, it has a secondary constriction in its long arm corresponding to the nucleolar organizer region, as confirmed by both silver staining and mapping of 18S rDNA probes. This is an unprecedented fact among birds. Additionally, 18S rDNA sites were also observed in 6 microchromosomes, while 5S rDNA was found in just 1 microchromosomal pair. Seven out of the 11 used microsatellite sequences were found to be accumulated in microchromosomes, and 6 microsatellite sequences were found in the W chromosome. In addition to the involvement of heterochromatin and repetitive DNAs in the differentiation of the large W chromosome, the results also show an alternative scenario that highlights the plasticity that shapes the evolutionary history of bird sex chromosomes.

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