Sex Talk Revelations of the Lonely Y Chromosome

Sep 09, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- In the week that the University of Leicester celebrates the 25th anniversary of the discovery of DNA fingerprinting (Thursday September 10) new findings from the world-renowned University of Leicester Department of Genetics reveal for the first time that the male and female do truly communicate -- at least at the fundamental genetic level.

The research counters that the X and Y chromosomes - that define the sexes - did not communicate at all.

The research is funded by the Wellcome Trust, and published in The . In it Dr Zoë Rosser and colleagues have shown that exchange of DNA does actually occur between the X and Y in the regions previously thought to be completely isolated.

Professor Mark Jobling, who led the study, said: “Recently it was shown that the Y chromosome can talk to itself - swapping bits of DNA from one region to another, and potentially giving it a way to fix mutations that might affect . In this new research we’ve now shown that it actually maintains a genetic conversation with the X chromosome, potentially giving it a way to fix other kinds of mutations, too. So, maybe it’s not quite the dysfunctional loner we have always imagined it to be.”

The X and Y chromosomes have a vital role- sex is determined by them. Apart from the 22 pairs of regular chromosomes all of us share, women have two X chromosomes, while men have only one X but also the smaller Y chromosome. It’s the Y that determines maleness by triggering development of testes rather than ovaries in the early embryo.

Professor Jobling said: “These days the X and Y are a very odd couple, but long ago, before mammals evolved, they were an ordinary pair of identical , exchanging DNA in a companionable way through the process of . However, once the Y chromosome took on the job of determining maleness, they stopped talking to each other. The X remained much the same, but the Y set out on a path of degeneration that saw it lose many of its genes and shrink to about one third the size of the X. Some scientists have predicted that it will eventually vanish altogether.

“These new findings from the Department of Genetics of the University of Leicester now challenge this interpretation of the Y chromosome’s fate.”

The Leicester researchers discovered that the conversation between the X and Y chromosome goes both ways, and it’s also clear that mutations arising on a decaying Y chromosome can be passed to the X - the Y chromosome’s revenge, perhaps! Future work will assess how widespread X-Y exchanges have been during evolution, and what the likely functional effects might be.

More information: “Gene conversion between the and the male-specific region of the at a translocation hotspot" by Zoë H Rosser, Patricia Balaresque and Mark A Jobling, which has been published by AJHG - The American Journal of Human Genetics (vol. 85, pp.130-134)

Provided by University of Leicester (news : web)

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User comments : 3

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malapropism
not rated yet Sep 09, 2009
It seems very counter-intuitive that the Y could disappear altogether; what then would determine maleness? The lack of a homologue for an X? "Y-coding regions" on an X that were activated only by the lack of some dosage effect of 2 X's? Neither of these seems in any way a reasonable approach to this question as they both admit too many potential problems in expression (to say nothing of mitosis).

Or is the suggestion that males disappear altogether? This would seem to pose a fairly insuperable difficulty for sexual recombination...?

Perhaps someone can enlighten me on the concept behind this suggestion?
kerry
not rated yet Sep 10, 2009
A different chromosome will be used to determine maleness.
Ethelred
not rated yet Sep 10, 2009
The idea is that a chromosome that does not exchange genes with another is limited to what it has plus mutations FOREVER. Unlike all the other chromosomes that exchange genes back and forth with each generation.

Thus any gene that is exclusively male on the Y MUST be conserved or lost forever. My Y chromosome must be NO MORE than what my father had and it could be less. With genes that are duplicated, one on each chromosome of a pair, one gene can cover another. This allows variants that might not be able to perform on their own but could contribute with help. There is no such possibility with the non-recombinant sections of the Y. If it doesn't do the trick the FIRST TIME OUT you have a boy that won't reproduce.

However the idea that the Y can be completely lost is silly at best. It simply means that the non-recombinant part of the Y MUST be conserved or the INDIVIDUAL will not reproduce.

Ethelred

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