Unstable Y

June 8, 2004 | 10 comments
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And now, from the “science imitates Andrea Dworkin” department, an interview today in the New York Times science section discusses, inter alia, the genetic problems caused by the relatively unstable Y chromosome:

Unlike all other chromosomes, the Y doesn’t get a chance to mix with any other chromosomes. . . . It gets passed on from one male to another, and it cannot repair mutations through genetic recombination. Moreover, the Y chromosome is subject to a higher mutation rate than other chromosomes because it is perennially confined to the male germ line. Male germ line cells and their DNA divide very, very fast to keep up with sperm production. Most mutations occur when DNA divides. So the Y is intrinsically unstable. By my estimate, in about 5,000 generations – 125,000 years – male fertility will be roughly 1 percent of what it is now. Mutations in Y chromosomes are already known to reduce male fertility. So I see a slow decline in men’s fertility until, eventually, men can no longer breed naturally. . . .

I feel sure that humans will one day be able to reproduce by the fusion of two eggs. The children will always be girls, and they will have the same genetic mix as any other girl. This is very feasible, and I think will happen in my lifetime.

Wow. If this is right, the human race may only have another 125,000 years of life as a two-gender species. After that, it’s going to be all women! (I’ll forgo inserting the customary PMS joke here). Does this mean that women will receive the priesthood? (Will they be as bad at doing their home teaching as men are?). Stay tuned over the next 125,000 years to find out . . .

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10 Responses to Unstable Y

  1. Frank McIntyre on June 8, 2004 at 4:46 pm

    That’s strange. Why aren’t we (and all other creatures with Y chromosomes) already all female? Surely if it was going to happen it would already have occurred, at least in some monkeys or something. Or maybe all those species are gone now…

    Regardless, I saw a NYT piece a couple years ago about how the Y chromosome may not actually be as dead as supposed. The researchers claimed that it actually contained many duplicate sets of information and would fold back on itself to get clean copies, thus avoiding the genetic dust bin so many geneticists were inclined to put it in. I wonder if this guy’s new book takes that (possibly) ongoing research into account.

  2. Measure on June 8, 2004 at 4:51 pm

    What? The human race is doomed and only modern science can save us?? HOLY CRAP!

  3. Steve Evans on June 8, 2004 at 4:55 pm

    “Does this mean that women will receive the priesthood?”

    Maybe it means they’ve had it all along, but will take us men 125,000 to figure it out.

  4. lyle on June 8, 2004 at 5:30 pm

    hm: so, did God set the “end of race” expiration date on earth via male DNA??? Does this mean that men actually have a half-life validating the mid-life crisis theory?

  5. obi-wan on June 8, 2004 at 6:45 pm

    Aha. When I saw the caption “unstable Y” I assumed it had something to do with the Church university.

  6. diogenes on June 8, 2004 at 6:53 pm

    “That’s strange. Why aren’t we (and all other creatures with Y chromosomes) already all female?”

    Wrong question — there are species (mostly insects as I recall) where the y-bearers *are* the females.

    Also all manner of polyploidy . . .

  7. Juliann on June 9, 2004 at 2:10 am

    It’s the first good reason I’ve heard for Celestial polygamy.

  8. Grasshopper on June 9, 2004 at 4:21 am

    This thread reminded me of a fascinating short story I read a couple of years back:

    Seventy-Two Letters, by Ted Chiang.

  9. Ethesis on June 9, 2004 at 8:47 pm

    That is why there are no species older than a million years.

    Oops, that isn’t true.

  10. Ethesis on June 9, 2004 at 8:49 pm

    I enjoyed the link to Seventy-Two Letters.