Is The Y Chromosome Dying Out?

Illustration for article titled Is The Y Chromosome Dying Out?

First there was artificial sperm, now there's evidence that the Y chromosome is deteriorating and may even disappear. Are we heading for a male-free society?


Not exactly. By comparing the DNA of echidnas and platypi (obviously the coolest part of the experiment was just looking at these Aussie critters) with that of other animals, scientists determined that the Y chromosome was evolving much faster than all the others. That means it is shedding genes at a faster rate. All this hard living by the Y chromosome began when it split from the X (a sort of DNA midlife crisis?), and can only end in tears. National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow Melissa Wilson says,

Today, the human Y chromosome contains less than 200 genes, while the human X chromosome contains around 1,100 genes. We know that a few of the genes on the Y chromosome are important, such as the ones involved in the formation of sperm, but we also know that most of the genes were not important for survival because they were lost, which led to the very different numbers of genes we observe between the once-identical X and Y. Although there is evidence that the Y chromosome is still degrading, some of the surviving genes on the Y chromosome may be essential, which can be inferred because these genes have been maintained for so long.

But watch out! Those magical sperminating gene may be on the way out too. According to study leader Kateryna Makova, "Even though some of the genes appear to be important, we still think there is a chance that the Y chromosome eventually could disappear." Will this lead to a Sapphic universe devoid of males? Nope, says Makova: "If this happens, it won't be the end of males. Instead, a new pair of non-sex chromosomes likely will start on the path to becoming sex chromosomes." So dudes are safe, but in a million years or so, lame trend pieces will have a different chromosome to blame for why men can't ask for directions. Then again, we'll probably be robots by then anyway.

Image via exitmundi.

Male Sex Chromosome Losing Genes By Rapid Evolution, Study Reveals [EurekAlert]


Spaceman Bill Leah

Does this mean that maybe we will become like those awesome frogs that caused all that trouble in Jurassic Park by spontaneously changing sex to compensate for the all female population?