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Manipulation of sex determination pathways in insects provides the basis for a wide spectrum of strategies to benefit agriculture and public health. Furthermore, insects display a remarkable diversity in the genetic pathways that lead to sex differentiation. The silkworm, Bombyx mori, has been cultivated by humans as a beneficial insect for over two millennia, and more recently as a model system for studying lepidopteran genetics and development. Previous studies have identified the B. mori Fem piRNA as the primary female determining factor and BmMasc as its downstream target, while the genetic scenario for male sex determination was still unclear. In the current study, we exploite the transgenic CRISPR/Cas9 system to generate a comprehensive set of knockout mutations in genes BmSxl, Bmtra2, BmImp, BmImpM, BmPSI and BmMasc, to investigate their roles in silkworm sex determination. Absence of Bmtra2 results in the complete depletion of Bmdsx transcripts, which is the conserved downstream factor in the sex determination pathway, and induces embryonic lethality. Loss of BmImp or BmImpM function does not affect the sexual differentiation. Mutations in BmPSI and BmMasc genes affect the splicing of Bmdsx and the female reproductive apparatus appeared in the male external genital. Intriguingly, we identify that BmPSI regulates expression of BmMasc, BmImpM and Bmdsx, supporting the conclusion that it acts as a key auxiliary factor in silkworm male sex determination.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS Genet

Publication Date





Animals, Bombyx, Female, Insect Proteins, Male, Mutation, RNA Splicing, RNA-Binding Proteins, Sex Determination Processes