Human Y chromosome preserves itself better than the chimp Y

By using human and chimpanzee Y chromosomes as a genetic fossil record to examine our past, scientists have seen a surprising difference in the way the male-making chromosomes from the two species cope with the inexorable pressures of evolution.

After comparing the Y chromosome sequences of the human and chimpanzee, Howard Hughes Medical Institute researcher David C. Page, postdoctoral fellow Jennifer F. Hughes and their colleagues have seen evidence that the human chromosome has found a way to stabilize itself and survive in the roughly 6 million years since humans and chimpanzees have been following different evolutionary paths. In other words, the human Y chromosome is not rotting away, as some scientists have argued.

In contrast, the chimpanzee Y chromosome is not faring quite as well. Studying the same family of single-copy genes shows that the chimp's Y has been accumulating mutations that are gradually making some of its genes useless.

About 6 million years ago humans and chimps shared a common ancestor, Page explained. Since then the chimp genome and the human genome have evolved along separate paths. Why natural selection has created such differences in their Y chromosomes is not clear.

Page, who is interim director of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, collaborated with genome researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. A detailed report on their findings appears in the September 1, 2005, issue of the journal Nature. Page's co-authors at the Whitehead Institute included Hughes, Helen Skaletsky, Tatyana Pyntikova and Steve Rozen. Washington University team members were Patrick J. Minx, Tina Graves and Richard K. Wilson, who are at the Genome Sequencing Center.

"The big idea has been that the Y chromosome's genes are going away -- that it's not long for this world," Page explained. But these new data -- based on comparing the chemical sequence, the "spelling" of single genes found on the two pr

Contact: Jim Keeley
Howard Hughes Medical Institute

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