Gender differences and sexual preferences are frequently a point of conversation. What produces the differences between men and women? Are they trivial or profound? Are they genetic or environmental, or both?
Some people claim that, genetically, men are more closely related to male chimpanzees than to women. Others discount sex differences because they’re determined by a single gene, called SRY, on the Y chromosome.
The human genome harbors approximately 163 genes that are either male-specific (found only on the Y chromosome), or expressed in sex-dependent patterns. But the key to difference between men and women – and chimps – lies not just in the number of their differing genes but in what these genes do.
It’s naïve to think that these 163 genes will all have the same level of influence. Some will code for proteins that are critical for life, or for sex. Others might have only a minor effect, or no visible effect at all.
In fact, the effects of at least some of these 163 genes are profound. The male-determining SRY gene, for instance, kick-starts a cascade of dozens of genes that are either turned on in male embryos or turned off in female embryos during testis or ovary development.
Most of these genes are not on sex chromosomes, so they are present in both sexes. But they are turned on to different extents – or at different times or in different tissues – in males and females. Counting these brings up the total to over a 1 percent genomic difference between the sexes.
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