Pity the poor Y chromosome. Sure, it makes us males male and plays a huge role in the genes which control testosterone production. Yet of the 46 human genes it is by far the smallest. Not only that, but according to a recent Scientific American article, it has become even smaller.
About 200 to 300 million years ago, that scrawny Y chromosome shared about 600 genes with its much more robust X partner. Recently the number of genes in common with the x chromosome was pegged at a paltry 19. Some geneticists even argue that given another 10 million years or so, the Y chromosome might even disappear. Mon dieu! Is nothing sacred anymore?
Yet on a somewhat more optimistic tone, there has been no further loss of Y genes over the most recent 25 million years. Some speculate that this is because there are actually about 12 genes on the Y chromosome which have nothing to do with sex. (and here I thought that that was all we males thought about). These genes control crucial areas of heart and lungs. So perhaps there was a natural selection advantage in keeping the old guy Y chromosome.
At least one researcher is not convinced that the Y chromosome is on its way to inevitable oblivion. According to Jenifer Graves, an Australian researcher, the past 10 million years of no more loss of genes may just be a temporary reprieve. She gives an example of two groups of rodents, which managed to eliminate the Y chromosome and are doing just fine, thank you.
Does the future look bright for us males? I would venture a cautious perhaps and suggest that science needs to preserve forever our beloved granddad the Y chromosome. If only so that way in the future, people can know what is was like to be a male.