Y you can stop worrying
For quite some time, researchers, media and possibly some misandrists have pondered the shrinking Y chromosome and the fate of men.
The Y chromosome, of course, is the chromosome that carries the directions for forming testes and making sperm, traits that sort of fundamentally define the male of the species and ensure continued reproduction.
But the Y chromosome has been getting smaller over the last several hundred million years as it has mysteriously shed genes. It now boasts just 19 compared to the roughly 600 genes it once boasted alongside the now-much-larger X chromosome. In a 2004 series, Joe Palca at NPR wondered if the incredibly shrinking Y was a harbinger for the eventual end of men.
Palca was not alone.
Relax, fellows. According to new research published in Nature, the dispiriting diminution of Y has ceased. Sure, it’s the undisputed runt of the chromosome family but it hasn’t gotten any runty-er for the past 25 million years, which is something.
The reason may be that the Y has nothing left to lose. Or at least nothing to lose that wouldn’t result in catastrophic consequences for all humanity. All of the remaining Y genes, biologist David Page told Scientific American, are crucial to human survival. They do important, basic jobs like directing the construction of proteins or how to splice RNA together. “These are powerful players in the central command room of cells,” Page said.
So heave a sigh for the Y, guys. Small but mighty is a whole lot better than being an ex-chromosome.