Dr Deborah Dawson


Genetic sex-typing of birds


I have been involved in the genetic sex-typing of over 200 species of bird and developed several bird sexing markers.
Several different methods exist for sex-typing birds from DNA and some methods suit some species better than others. Some species are difficult to sex-type and some sample types can be problematic e.g. museum samples. I therefore developed new sex-typing markers:

Marker Z37B (Dawson et al. 2015) amplifies a small product and is suitable for sex-typing degraded samples (eg museum samples, unhatched eggs) and samples of low quantity (eg feathers, mouth swabs).

Marker Z43B (Dawson et al. 2016) is able to sex species that are problematic to sex with other markers.

I have collected data relating to the protocols needed to sex different species from another 100 species. Some markers detect Z chromosome polymorphism which needs to be considered when interpreting sexing data  
(Dawson et al. 2001). We have found that birds from the same family can normally be sex-typed using the same primer set and technique. Therefore I have created a webpage and database to assist researchers in becoming familiar with the techniques involved in molecular bird sexing and to indicate the most suitable choice of method to use for a particular species. See the "See Also" section. This work was discussed in my thesis.


Dawson DA, Darby S, Hunter FM, Krupa AP, Jones IL and Burke T (2001) A critique of CHD-based molecular sexing protocols illustrated by a Z-chromosome polymorphism detected in auklets (Aves: Alcidae, Laridae). Molecular Ecology Notes, 1, 201–204.

Dawson DA, Brekke P, dos Remedios N, Horsburgh GJ (2015) A marker suitable for sex-typing birds from degraded samples. Conservation Genetics Resources, 7, 337–343 [Open Access].

Dawson DA, dos Remedios N, Horsburgh GJ (2016) A new marker based on the avian spindlin gene that is able to sex most birds, including species problematic to sex with CHD markers. Zoo Biology, 35, 533–545. [Open Access]