NEWS AND COMMENTARY
The longevity of Y chromosomes ...............................................................
The Human Y chromosome is not dead (yet)
P de Knijff ...........................................................
Heredity (2006) 97, 377–378.doi:10.1038/sj.hdy.6800896; published online 4 October 2006
here are those who want us to believe that, given sufﬁcient time, the human Y-chromosome (HY) will disappear (Graves, 2006). Their reasoning is simple and straightforward. Owing to lack of recombination the HY has degenerated in size and number of genes during its 300 million years of splendid isolation and there is nothing to prevent thisprocess from continuation towards its impending demise. Still, although there are many strong arguments in favor of this hypothesis, there might be some hope. This hope is based on two different lines of research. First, the two recently published complete chimpanzee Y-chromosome sequences enables a direct and detailed comparison between the Human Y-chromosome and its evolutionary closest relative(Hughes et al., 2005; Kuroki et al., 2006). From this, it appears that at least during the last 6 million years of human evolution the HY did not suffer from any detectable loss of genes. This cross-species comparison also revealed strong signals of purifying selection acting on expressed genes on the HY. It is the second line of evidence, described in some more detail below, which could explain atleast in part this unexpected escape from extinction. Obviously, recombination is not the only genomic redistribution mechanism. A continuous process of gene conversion, homologous recombination, inversion, deletion, and duplication events, inﬂuenced by purifying selection and hitchhiking could be sufﬁciently powerful to prevent the HY from its ultimate fate (Hughes et al., 2005). If this is true,the remarkable structural repetitive nature of the HY would no longer be a little understood byproduct of evolution, but actually serve an important purpose. In a recent report, Repping et al. (2006) describe in much detail the remarkable ﬂexibility of the HY. Their approach, involving a lot of work, is very simple and makes clever use of the availability of a stable and reliable phylogeny of allextant HY (YCC-con-
sortium, 2002). They carefully selected 47 cell lines, each representing a distinct branch of the HY-tree, and analyzed these samples for the possible presence of nine large-scale structural polymorphisms. All structural polymorphisms observed among the 47 samples were superimposed on the fully resolved HY-phylogeny (see Figure 1). This enabled the authors to estimatethe minimum number of structural
mutations, per polymorphism. Without the HY-phylogeny, this would have been an almost impossible task. As the available HY-phylogeny could be biased (not based on randomly discovered mutations), the authors resequenced B80 kb in all 47 samples and discovered 94 new Y-chromosome SNPs. These SNPs produced an independently and unbiased HY-phylogeny which was nearidentical to the old one. Four frequently polymorphic structural variants were detected; the distal Yq heterochromatin, the TSPY array, the IR3 inversion, and AZFc, with lower bound mutation frequency estimate between 2.2 and 4.4 Â 10À4. These remarkable high mutation rates approaches those of microsatellites. Another interesting observation is the predominance of inversions in AZFc, resulting invery few chromosomes with different gene copy numbers. This could be yet another conﬁrmation of the hypothesis
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Figure 1 The power of a stable phylogeny of the human Y-chromosome. Panel 1 shows the phylogeny of ﬁve hypothetical Y-chromosomes A–E. This phylogeny is based on nine nonrecurrent...