The nematode C. elegans naturally develops as either an XO male or XX hermaphrodite. The sex-determining gene, tra-2, promotes hermaphrodite development in XX animals. This gene encodes a predicted membrane protein, named TRA-2A, which has been proposed to provide the primary feminising activity of the tra-2 locus. Here, we show that transgenic TRA-2A driven from a heat shock promoter can fully feminise the somatic tissues of XX tra-2 loss-of-function mutants, which would otherwise develop as male. TRA-2A is thus likely to provide a component of the tra-2 locus that is both necessary and sufficient to promote female somatic development. Transgenic TRA-2A driven by the heat shock promoter can also transform XO animals from male to self-fertile hermaphrodite. This result establishes the role of tra-2 as a developmental switch that controls somatic sexual cell fate. We show that a carboxy-terminal region of TRA-2A, predicted to be intra-cellular, can partially feminise XX tra-2 loss-of-function mutants and XO tra-2(+) males. We suggest that this intra-cellular domain of TRA-2A promotes hermaphrodite development by negatively regulating the FEM proteins.

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