Saturday, July 18, 2009

Thank God for the Conditional Tense

At a website where one can learn Spanish online, I found the following:

“Frequently, the conditional tense is used to express probability, possibility, wonder or conjecture, and is usually translated as would, could, must have, or probably. For example:

The student said that he would study one more hour. (probability, possibility)
What time could it have been? (wonder, conjecture)
He must have been at home. (wonder, conjecture)
We were probably busy when you called. (probability, possibility)”

I hasten to add that in English, conditional tense also involves the use of such auxiliary verbs as may, might, can, and could.

Why this sudden interest in grammar? I’ll tell you why this sudden interest in grammar.

This morning over at Yahoo I read an interesting article by Radha Chitale of the ABC News Medical Unit entitled, “Will Chromosome Y Go Bye-Bye?” and its sub-title was “Is the End of Men Imminent?” Judging from the comments on my blog, most readers here are female and are probably thinking right now, “I hope so,” followed shortly thereafter by “Would God that it were so.” But that’s just conjecture on my part. I suppose I am far more interested in the possible demise of men than a woman might be (remember the old joke about ham and eggs? -- for the hen it is a commitment, but for the pig it represents a real sacrifice).

So because it hits a little too close to home, in a manner of speaking, and since this is my blog you’re reading, here is the entire article, with all its conditional constructions italicized by yours truly.

Will Chromosome Y Go Bye-Bye?
(Is the End of Men Imminent?)

What makes a man a man? Socially, that is a complicated question. Genetically, however, it is as simple as a single Y chromosome.

But guys, that chromosome is in trouble.

In a new study, researchers say there is a dramatic loss of genes from the human Y chromosome that eventually could lead to its complete disappearance -- in the next few millennia. While the Y chromosome’s degeneration has been known to geneticists and evolutionary biologists for decades, the study sheds new light on some of the evolutionary processes that may have contributed to its demise and posits that, as the degeneration continues, the Y chromosome could disappear from our genetic repertoire entirely.

“It’s certainly possible, but it’s difficult to predict when it will happen,” said Kateryna Makova, an associate professor of biology at Penn State University, who led the study, which was published Thursday in the journal PLoS Genetics.

Although geneticists and evolutionary biologists agree that the Y chromosome is degenerating -- and far more rapidly than its X counterpart -- they reject the idea of a world far in the future where men are obsolete.

“The idea that the Y chromosome has just bailed out of an airplane without a parachute simply doesn’t fit the facts,” said Dr. David Page, director of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass., and a Y chromosome expert. “The evidence from studies on natural deletions of [genes on] the human Y chromosome shows there are consequences, especially for sperm production, that implies very strong natural selection against the loss of genes on the human Y chromosome.”

Y Chromosomes Had Problems From the Start

Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes packed with genes that dictate every aspect of our biological functioning. Of these pairs, the sex chromosomes are different; women have two X chromosomes and men have an X and a Y chromosome. The Y chromosome contains essential blueprints for the male reproductive system, in particular those for sperm development.

But the Y chromosome, which once contained as many genes as the X chromosome, has deteriorated over time and now contains less than 80 functional genes compared to its partner, which contains more than 1,000 genes. Geneticists and evolutionary biologists determined that the Y chromosome’s deterioration is due to accumulated mutations, deletions and anomalies that have nowhere to go because the chromosome doesn’t swap genes with the X chromosome like every other chromosomal pair in our cells do.

Y Chromosomes Are Rapidly Losing Genes

However, Melissa Wilson, lead author of the study and graduate research fellow at Penn State University, pointed out that if there is no difference between a male who has lost a particular gene and one who still retains it, especially if both are still fertile, then that gene must be nonessential.

“Because they can lose [a gene] ... we conclude that it’s on its way to dying in humans,” she said.

Yet the Y chromosome perseveres, despite its rapid rate of deterioration.

“The key flaw in the logic [of Y chromosome deterioration] is the assumption that the Y chromosome can only lose genes,” Page said. “But the human Y chromosome has gained genes not even on the X chromosome. Men who lose those genes do not transmit their Y chromosome.”

Y Chromosome Can Gain Genes

Page pointed out that, while the Y chromosome may not share genetic material with the X chromosome, it can swap genes with other chromosomes as well as keep multiple copies of functional genes to increase their number on the Y chromosome. Makova and Wilson said that the increased rate of mutation on the Y chromosome could give rise to new genes that may prove beneficial and, therefore, remain on the chromosome.

Genetic change, whether by mutation, environmental stressors or by swapping bits of chromosomes, is the natural course of evolution, and evolution is weighted towards survival. Perhaps most importantly, Y chromosomes with defective male-specific genes, especially those involved in sperm production, are unlikely to reproduce and pass on those genes to their sons, which knocks highly defective chromosomes out of the gene pool. Genetic changes that do not favor reproduction are likely to get weeded out of the system.

“The most fundamental [principle] to all evolution is reproduction,” said Dr. Ronald Crystal, chairman of the Department of Genetic Medicine at Weil Cornell Medical College. “No one knows why the Y chromosome has more pressures to evolve. It may be that the genes are irrelevant. ... But evolution figures out a way to maintain reproduction.”

Reproduction Is Still Paramount for Evolution

Even if the Y chromosome becomes obsolete, reproduction will continue, in some form. Makova and Wilson said that new sex chromosomes may rise from non-sex chromosomes or that essential genes might move to other chromosomes, which has happened in some species of deer. “Presumably, we will have moved genes around,” said Dr. Harry Ostrer, director of the Human Genetics program at the New York University School of Medicine. “But the reproductive structures will be well conserved.”

In other words, men will not fade away, even if their Y chromosomes do.

[end of article] (emphases mine)

Well, I don’t know about you, but the original article (without any italicized words) scared the bejeebers out of me. Adding the italics helped a little in pointing out the uncertainty of it all, but not much.

After reading the article and letting the possibility roll around in my brain, and even after understanding that much of the article is mere conjecture clothed in scientific language, I can’t help it.

I’m still very tense.


  1. "I'm still very tense." That's the conditional tense, right?

    You do find and report the most amazing things. Men's genes are probably being affected by their tight jeans. :)

    "Y?" one may ask. "Y" not?

  2. Why? Oh, why? Oh, why? Or simply Y? Oh, Y? Oh, Y?

  3. if you ever were adroit, you would have read my thesis on eggs and had known i had the answer weeks ago...council of the eggs are 12 women[SORT OF LIKE THE 12 APOSTLES]who use sperm either from a live male or a BANK and predetermine the results by sitting in council and talking about it, and the gods(so called males} who comme off of this "sitting" are still more or less goverened by this council and they let the men who are now gods think it was all their idea in the first place

  4. Pat and jinksy (Penny) - My Dad used to say, "A B C D goldfish? L M N O goldfish. O S A R. C M? For some reason I can't quite put my finger on, it seemed important just now to tell you that.

    Putz (David) - Apparently I am adroit, because I did read your council of the eggs post awhile back (although I couldn't find it today when I wanted to refresh my memory). As I recall, I couldn't decide whether (a) you were describing an obscure LDS doctrine or (b) you had invented a story on your own or (c) it was a mixture of (a) and (b). You know what? I still can't. I'm not trying to be offensive; I'm just saying.

  5. My dad was fond of telling us the following:

    O.K. M.N.X!

  6. It is a disconcerting theory. However, even if it's true, I'm confident that all current holders of the Y chromosome will get to keep it as long as they're here. So you at least are safe. (for which I'm grateful.)

  7. It's a feminist plot to kill us all, I daresay. Probably an atheistic, Communistic, liberalistic, Northernistic, humanistic, and Unitarianistic, feminist plot.

    Bye, I'm off to stock-up on food and ammo