Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Y chromosome evolution?

A recent article in the local newspaper ("Study maps advances in Y chromosome" - Seth Borenstein AP http://www.theeagle.com/nation/Study-maps-advances-in-Y-chromosome) talks about a study comparing the Y chromosomes from humans and chimpanzees. As a result of this study, the authors came to the conclusion that the Y chromosome is evolving faster than the rest of the human genetic code. The study found that the human Y chromosome and that of chimps are about 30 percent different, as opposed to 2 percent for the rest of the genome. Since we were studying chromosomes and genes in biology class at the time, I found the article very interesting and had intended to bring it up in class. However, our fast-paced schedule didn't allow it that day and the article got buried under something else on my desk and I forgot about it for the next few weeks.
I have always joked that the Y chromosome has only a few genes, the ones for hairy ears and channel-surfing being the most prominent. The hairy ears gene isn't a joke -it's really true - but the alleged channel-surfing gene has long been discussed with laughter at our house, as well as at many others. But reading the article made me think about the significance of that little Y chromosome. King Henry VIII notwithstanding, most of us now understand that it's the male who decides the gender of the offspring rather than the female. In genetics when we talk about sex-linked traits, we almost exclusively discuss genes on the X chromosome, since those characteristics (color blindness, hemophilia) are the ones most studied. When we discuss the Y chromosome in terms of those who have more than one of them (XYY), the discussion can become very negative, since those individuals have long been suspected of exhibiting extreme aggression and perhaps violence (FYI - I googled XYY and found an interesting website about the syndrome: http://www.pathguy.com/xyy.htm). Perhaps we need to start putting more positive emphasis on the Y chromosome genes. After all, they're sex-linked, too! Even though those traits can ONLY show up in males, I think the guys might appreciate it if we spent a little more time focusing on that lonely little neglected Y chromosome and its positive impact on those who possess it. Now I just have to find the time to research what they might be before the topic comes up again next year . . .

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