Y Chromosome Keeps Losing Genes

Technology.am (Apr. 16, 2009) — Move over, Y chromosome – it’s time X chromosome got some attention.

x-y-chromosome“Contrary to the traditional view of being a passive player, the X chromosome has a very active role in the evolutionary process of sex chromosome differentiation,” said Bachtrog, an assistant professor of integrative biology and a member of UC Berkeley’s Center for Theoretical Evolutionary Genomics.

“We demonstrate for the first time the flip side of the sex chromosome evolution puzzle: The X chromosome undergoes periods of intense adaptation in the evolutionary process of creating new sections of the genome that govern sexual differentiation in many species, including our own,” she said.

The Y chromosome, however, which is inherited by males in concert with one X chromosome, is a withered version of the X, having lost many genes since it stopped recombining with the X chromosome.

Hence the intense interest in why and how the Y chromosome lost genes once it stopped interacting with the X. Scientists have found that, as the only chromosome pair that doesn’t break and recombine every time a cell divides, the XY pair in males is unable to take advantage of the main way deleterious genetic mutations are eliminated. The XX pair in females does recombine, but for the Y, the only way to get rid of a bad mutation in a gene is to inactivate or delete the entire gene. Over millions of years, inactive genes are lost, and the Y shrinks.

“If you have no recombination, natural selection is less effective at removing detrimental genes,” said Bachtrog. “Y is an asexual chromosome, and it pays a price for that: It keeps losing genes.”

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