New Gene May Solve the Y - and X - of Sex

By Edwards, Diane D. | Science News, January 2, 1988 | Go to article overview

New Gene May Solve the Y - and X - of Sex


Edwards, Diane D., Science News


New gene may solve the Y (and X) of sex

Whether a person is male or female apparently depends upon a very small portion of the Y chromosome, scientists reported last week. By using abnormal human sex chromosomes and a "Noah's ark" of Y chromosomes from other species, the international research team has cloned an area containing what they say is the gene responsible for at least the first step in sex differentiation.

Although further studies are needed to confirm the gene's exact function, its discovery -- coupled with the concurrent identification of a similar segment on the X chromosome -- should answer some fundamental questions about what determines sex in humans and other species.

Scientists from the University of Helsinki in Finland, the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass., report in the Dec. 24 CELL that the newly cloned segment contains the testis-determining factor gene (TDF). Scientists have said for years that there must be such a factor, a "master" protein coded by the Y chromosome that can determine sex by its presence or absence. The newly identified gene, which the authors conclude "is probably TDF," apparently resides in a DNA segment only 1.3 kilobases long. In comparison, the length of the entire human Y chromosome is about 70,000 kilobases (a standard unit of measure in genetics). …

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