, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 35-45
Date: 15 Nov 2011

Is the Y chromosome disappearing?—Both sides of the argument


On August 31, 2011 at the 18th International Chromosome Conference in Manchester, Jenny Graves took on Jenn Hughes to debate the demise (or otherwise) of the mammalian Y chromosome. Sex chromosome evolution is an example of convergence; there are numerous examples of XY and ZW systems with varying degrees of differentiation and isolated examples of the Y disappearing in some lineages. It is agreed that the Y was once genetically identical to its partner and that the present-day human sex chromosomes retain only traces of their shared ancestry. The euchromatic portion of the male-specific region of the Y is ~1/6 of the size of the X and has only ~1/12 the number of genes. The big question however is whether this degradation will continue or whether it has reached a point of equilibrium. Jenny Graves argued that the Y chromosome is subject to higher rates of variation and inefficient selection and that Ys (and Ws) degrade inexorably. She argued that there is evidence that the Y in other mammals has undergone lineage-specific degradation and already disappeared in some rodent lineages. She also pointed out that there is practically nothing left of the original human Y and the added part of the human Y is degrading rapidly. Jenn Hughes on the other hand argued that the Y has not disappeared yet and it has been around for hundreds of millions of years. She stated that it has shown that it can outsmart genetic decay in the absence of “normal” recombination and that most of its genes on the human Y exhibit signs of purifying selection. She noted that it has added at least eight different genes, many of which have subsequently expanded in copy number, and that it has not lost any genes since the human and chimpanzee diverged ~6 million years ago. The issue was put to the vote with an exact 50/50 split among the opinion of the audience; an interesting (though perhaps not entirely unexpected) skew however was noted in the sex ratio of those for and against the notion.

Responsible Editor: Tariq Ezaz and Jenny Graves.
Comment on a debate between Jennifer Marshall Graves and Jennifer Hughes at the 18th International Chromosome Conference Manchester, August 31, 2011.