This week's issue of Nature focuses on the genetics of the Y chromosome. The big news is that scientists have just released the complete genetic sequence for the Y chromosome from one Buffalo area man known only by the designation RPCI-11. (more coverage)

For those not in the know on these sorts of things, human beings have 23 pairs of bundles of DNA called chromosomes that contain our complete genetic blueprints. One chromosome in each pair comes from each of your parents and the two are more or less identical, with one exception. Men receive from their fathers one copy of a chromosome that is not paired with a twin. The Y chromosome is much smaller than its partner (the X chromosome) and contains the separate genetic instructions that determine maleness.


Scientists had previously assumed that this chromosome was not very interesting, as it carried much less information than its more robust partner. As part of the ongoing effort to decode the human genome, scientists tackled it for a detailed analysis - probably with the idea of grabbing some low-hanging fruit.

Their investigation led to some unexpected results, however, including the revelation that there is more genetic variation between men and women than between humans and chimpanzees of the same gender. Another interesting result centers around one of the main benefits of sexual reproduction, a process called "recombination", where each chromosome has a chance to mingle with its partner, sharing information and developing. But the Y chromosome, lacking a partner, cannot do this. The study revealed that it has developed a way to compensate, by recombining with itself, thus leaving men open to the accusation that they're self-involved on the most profound genetic level.