It's the chromosome Y and mighty
Posted: Saturday, August 18, 2001
It's the runt of the genome. A comma of a chromosome that might be called in evidence to show that the Creator has a feminist sense of humour. It has to be a joke. To design the one chromosome that appears only in male bodies, that sets the developing embryo off on the path of bigger muscles and more aggression, and then to make it such a weedy and insignificant thing.
Not only does it look like an afterthought, but even geneticists have traditionally had little positive to say about the Y chromosome. "There's nothing very interesting on it, is there? Just a few genes coding for sperm," says one researcher, crouched over her computer at the Department of Pathology in Cambridge, investigating the genes involved in breast cancer. "My colleagues thought I was really odd when I started studying it 15 years ago," adds Dr Nabeel Affara, the department's Y expert.
But the runty Y is enjoying the last laugh. Having sand kicked in its face by dismissive researchers will soon be a thing of the past. In recent years, it has been undergoing a Clark Kent-like transformation. A shrimp it may be, but it is turning out to be the wild frontier of the genome, where strange and important things happen. More
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