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The Y Chromosome and Somatic Cells

We may have finished sequencing the human genome, but we still have a lot to learn about our genetic makeup and how it controls our physiology. Scientists have long known that genes on the Y chromosome are responsible for sexually differentiating males from females, but according to a recent New York Times article, research has shown that key regulatory genes expressed in all cells have evolved to be slightly different on the human Y chromosome than on its X counterpart. Though the X and Y chromosomes are typically associated with reproduction and sex determination, they are present in every somatic (non-sex) cell and also contain genes responsible for producing proteins that are not gender-specific. A recent study by Daniel W. Bellott, David Page et al. has identified a dozen such genes on the Y chromosome that have become distinct from their originally identical X chromosome counterparts since the origin of the Y chromosome some 180 million years ago.

Since these twelve genes have crucial roles in switching other genes on and off, they control a large number of cellular processes and have a disproportionately high impact across the body. Dr. Page, one of the authors of the study, states that the differences in these genes are responsible for “the cells of males and females being biochemically different.” He believes that the differential incidence rates of many diseases between men and women, which have been largely attributed to the influence of sex hormones, may in fact be at least partially a result of this evolution of Y chromosome genes. If this is the case, it could redefine how we treat the underlying causes of many diseases.  

For the New York Times article, follow this link: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/24/science/researchers-see-new-importance-for-y-chromosome.html?_r=1 or dive into the research itself here: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v508/n7497/full/nature13206.html

Andrew Wilson, Summer Research Intern

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    Response: scientific methods
    Hooker Research Group at MGH Martinos Center - Blog - The Y Chromosome and Somatic Cells

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