“A few years ago, scientists began wondering whether [the Y chromosome] was in trouble. When they compared it to the X chromosome, which is carried by both men and women, the Y chromosome didn’t seem to measure up.”
When they say “didn’t measure up,” they mean that the Y chromosome has been shedding genes like crazy, and now has only 70 or 80 or so. Compare that to the X chromosome, which carries hundreds of genes. White science-y dudes everywhere are worried because the type of evolution the Y chromosome is doing – gene shedding – “can’t go on forever.”
But rather than delving into the implications of the incredible shrinking Y chromosome, NPR reporter David Page chose instead to wrap the package up with a neat little bow, concluding that the Y chromosome (which is really just a fun science-y way of saying menfolk) is a paragon of agility, and should be commended for its innovative evolutionary techniques.
Left unanswered were several questions any reasonable listener, and indeed any self-respecting journalist, would ask:
• Why are the genes evolving in this disparate fashion?
• Why can’t the gene-shedding carry on forever?
• What happens if said gene-shedding continues? Do men become obsolete, or somehow less complete? Or do they just get EVEN MORE AWESOME, as the story would have us believe?
• Why isn’t the X chromosome evolving this way?
• What are the benefits and drawbacks of the different forms of evolution for these two genes?
• What are the freakin’ implications, huh?
The story brought up more questions than answers – questions that the reporter could’ve easily used the segment’s two minutes of airtime to address, rather than just reassuring his male audience that they needn’t worry about obsolescence, but instead should congratulate themselves on their superior evolutionary skills.
White male scientist David Page, of MIT’s Whitehead Institute, summed it up this way:
“It shows quite a degree of inventiveness and creativity that maybe the rest of the genome could learn something from.”
Thanks for the edification, white guys! I guess I should set about training my inferior X chromosomes to adopt an unsustainable pattern of evolution, huh?