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Genes expose secrets of sex on the side

genes moved farther overall, the new research indicates.

To sort out how far men and women's genes traveled, the UA researchers used DNA from the Y chromosome, which is passed from father to son. Women's lineages were traced using mitochondrial DNA, which passes from mother to daughter.

The researchers report their findings in two related articles, one in the online early edition of the October issue of Nature Genetics and one in an upcoming edition of Molecular Biology and Evolution. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Scientists have puzzled over the fact that men's common ancestor, dubbed Y-chromosome Adam, seems to have lived around 100 thousand years ago, whereas women's common ancestor, known as mitochondrial Eve, lived almost 200 thousand years ago.

Worldwide, the DNA from the Y chromosome has much less genetic variability than does mitochondrial DNA.

"We wanted to know what shapes the patterns of Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA variation," said Wilder. "What can we learn about human behavior?"

To find out, Wilder, Hammer and Zahra Mobasher, a research specialist at UA's Arizona Research Laboratories, tested Y-chromosome DNA and mitochondrial DNA from three far-flung populations of humans: the Khoisan of southern Africa, Mongolian Khalks and highland Papua New Guineans. For each group, DNA from 24 or 25 people was tested.

Previously, researchers assumed equal numbers of men and women procreated. Based on that assumption, scientists explained the relative youth and low variability of the Y chromosome by suggesting that a beneficial mutation on the Y had swept through the whole world. However, the genetic patterns the UA researchers found contradicts those ideas.

If a beneficial mutation had swept through the males, men's common paternal ancestor would be the same age no matter where the UA re
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Contact: Mari N. Jensen
mnjensen@email.arizona.edu
520-626-9635
University of Arizona
19-Sep-2004


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