Human Genetics

, Volume 136, Issue 5, pp 511–528 | Cite as

The Y chromosomes of the great apes

Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Y-Chromosome


The great apes (orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and humans) descended from a common ancestor around 13 million years ago, and since then their sex chromosomes have followed very different evolutionary paths. While great-ape X chromosomes are highly conserved, their Y chromosomes, reflecting the general lability and degeneration of this male-specific part of the genome since its early mammalian origin, have evolved rapidly both between and within species. Understanding great-ape Y chromosome structure, gene content and diversity would provide a valuable evolutionary context for the human Y, and would also illuminate sex-biased behaviours, and the effects of the evolutionary pressures exerted by different mating strategies on this male-specific part of the genome. High-quality Y-chromosome sequences are available for human and chimpanzee (and low-quality for gorilla). The chromosomes differ in size, sequence organisation and content, and while retaining a relatively stable set of ancestral single-copy genes, show considerable variation in content and copy number of ampliconic multi-copy genes. Studies of Y-chromosome diversity in other great apes are relatively undeveloped compared to those in humans, but have nevertheless provided insights into speciation, dispersal, and mating patterns. Future studies, including data from larger sample sizes of wild-born and geographically well-defined individuals, and full Y-chromosome sequences from bonobos, gorillas and orangutans, promise to further our understanding of population histories, male-biased behaviours, mutation processes, and the functions of Y-chromosomal genes.


Sperm Competition Western Lowland Gorilla Sumatran Orangutan Chimpanzee Lineage Ampliconic Region 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



P.H. was supported by Estonian Research Council Grant PUT1036.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors state that there is no conflict of interest.


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Molecular and Cell BiologyUniversity of TartuTartuEstonia
  2. 2.Wellcome Trust Sanger InstituteHinxtonUK
  3. 3.Department of GeneticsUniversity of LeicesterLeicesterUK

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