But two studies published in this week's issue of the journal Nature suggest that the rumors of the Y's demise have been greatly exaggerated. Researchers from Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass., and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that not only does the Y contain far more genes than scientists thought the team found about 78 genes it also includes a large number of genes arranged in pairs along this single chromosome in ways that may allow the Y to mimic the paired chromosome structure of the rest of the genome.
The findings, involving observations in both human and chimp male chromosomes, could explain how the Y repairs injured genes without the benefit of sexual recombination the method of gene repair used by all other chromosomes. It's an elegant system that would debunk the theory of a "rotting Y" the widely held notion that the male chromosome and its dead or dying genes will continue to rot away over the next 5 million years until there's nothing left.
"We have a new way of understanding how the rotting tendencies of the Y are counter-acted," said David Page, a scientist at Whitehead Institute and lead researcher on this project. Page also holds an appointment as an investigator with Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
All chromosomes in the nucleus come in pairs except the Y. Each member of a chromosomal pair draws on its mate for genetic repair through sexual recombination. When one half suffers a genetic injury, as is the case with many diseases, it can discard the mutated
Contact: Kelli Whitlock
Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research