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Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology
Volume 1 (2001), Issue 1, Pages 18-24
Review article

The Human Y Chromosome: The Biological Role of a “Functional Wasteland”

Unité d'Immunogénétique Humaine, INSERM E027, Institut Pasteur, 25-28 rue du Dr. Roux, Paris Cedex 15 75724, France

Copyright © 2001 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


“Functional wasteland,” “Nonrecombining desert” and “Gene-poor chromosome” are only some examples of the different definitions given to the Y chromosome in the last decade. In comparison to the other chromosomes, the Y is poor in genes, being more than 50% of its sequence composed of repeated elements. Moreover, the Y genes are in continuous decay probably due to the lack of recombination of this chromosome. But the human Y chromosome, at the same time, plays a central role in human biology. The presence or absence of this chromosome determines gonadal sex. Thus, mammalian embryos with a Y chromosome develop testes, while those without it develop ovaries (Polani [38]). What is responsible for the male phenotype is the testis-determining SRY gene (Sinclair [52]) which remains the most distinguishing characteristic of this chromosome. In addition to SRY, the presence of other genes with important functions has been reported, including a region associated to Turner estigmata, a gene related to the development of gonadoblastoma and, most important, genes related to germ cell development and maintenance and then, related with male fertility (Lahn and Page [31]). This paper reviews the structure and the biological functions of this peculiar chromosome.