Thursday, March 8, 2012

Genetic Maker of Men is Diminished

The headline read a little like Kodak’s bankruptcy (which resulted in the famous Kodak Theatre where the Academy Awards were held having to change its name), like the fall of Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns or MF Global. “Genetic Maker of Men is Diminished but Holding Its Ground Researchers, Say,” ran the Times headline (NYT, 2/22/12) Of course the article was not about a company, but about the Y chromosome which apparently had been shedding genes for the sake apparently of womankind—Adam’s Rib playing itself out on the genome, as it were. “The Y chromosome began its self-sacrificing downsizing in the gallant cause of protecting women,” Times writer Nicholas Wade reported. “As is well-known, the purpose of sex is to exchange DNA between the mother’s and father’s version of each gene…But the male-determining gene on the Y cannot be allowed to sneak across onto the X because it would insert maleness where it should not be.”  Evolution created a “no-swapping zone” resulting in the Y retaining only l9 of the original 790 genes in this area. Wade’s piece was based on work done at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts where researchers “have reconstructed the Y chromosome’s" history. But all is not lost. The Y chromosome is not another Titanic according to the same researchers who have concluded that all of the Y’s “genetic self-sacrificing occurred in the distant past.” Saab may have had to stop production of its cars, but the male of the species will continue to be produced. Mark Twain’s famous post mortem can be applied to men, “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

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