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The SRY gene.


The initial search for what genetically decides whether a person developes as male or female was centred on a protein, called the H-Y antigen which, in male mice, seemed to be produced by a gene on the Y chromosome. It is involved in the immune system in the body and is present on the surface of most cells. A hypothesis was constructed involving it which lasted for about ten years.

Since it is found in the skin of male transsexuals, as in women, it was also thought be a basis for gender identity problems. However this hypothesis has also proved to be unfounded.

The hypothetical agent which produced maleness, which everyone one was looking for, was given the name testes determining factor - tdf

It was a sort of umbrella term for the gene or genes, and the relevant proteins. The final step came from studying XX men, people with female chromosomes who had grown up as men. Their first intimation that they were not men was when they found they were sterile.

As techniques of genetic investigation improved, it became possible to study the genes of XX men, and show that a tiny part of their fathers' Y chromosome had become attached to the X chromosome that passed to them.

A gene by the name of ZFY (Zinc Finger Y) looked a likely candidate, until three XX men without ZFY turned up. By this time, the length of genetic material that researchers were looking at was so small they began to doubt that there could be gene there at all.

The search, described in Cookson's The Gene Hunters, (1) ended in a region of only 250 base pairs, which was given the name SRY. It probably has a long evolutionary history, being almost identical to a gene involved in reproduction in yeast. When one considers an average gene length is many thousands of base pairs, it seems incredible that something so small could have such a profound effect on world history. If nothing else it is responsible for deforestation of large parts of the world to provide the paper for feminist literature and voyeuristic articles by Fleet Street about transvestites and transsexuals.

It seems that the protein produced by the SRY gene binds to the DNA molecule in specific places, and causes it to bend sharply. It is believed that this change in the three dimensional geometric structure alters the action of a range of other genes.

Sometimes the SRY gene is missing from the Y chromosome, or doesn't activate. The fetus grows, is born, and lives as a little girl, and later as a woman, but her chromosomes are XY. Such people are, usually, clearly women to themselves and everyone else. The first premonition that something is wrong may be when menstruation doesn't begin. Occasionally, during meiosis a piece of a Y chromosome transfers to the X, and is carried on into the sperm. Thus the female embryo that results is XX, but develops as a male.

There is a horror story of just such an XY woman,(2) who only discovered the truth after hospital treatment after a diving accident. She then was made to live her next twenty years in abject shame. Her father rushed her into marriage, and her husband told her openly that he had married her because she was a freak. These, of all people should be able to claim that they were 'born that way' and they are an object lesson for those hoping to find respectability in a 'gay' gene.

Bibliography and Good Reading.

  1. Cookson, W., (1994) The Gene Hunters: Adventures in the Genome Jungle, London: Aurum Press.
  2. Cracking the code: Birth, Sex and Death, BBC Television, 21st., September, 1993.

NEXT Genetic Errors.

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Bland, J., (1998) About Gender: The SRY Gene
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Derby TV/TS Group. Text copyright Jed Bland.
Last amended 08.04.98, 09.06.12, 01.05,14