Genetics: The X factor

Erika Check in Nature:

This January, Harvard University president Larry Summers incited a near riot by suggesting that men might be better than women at science. The resulting pandemonium has revealed few genuine insights into male and female mental abilities — although it has shown that old prejudices linger on campus, and beyond.

In contrast, biology presents a challenge to those who still believe women are better off at home than in the hallowed halls of universities. As geneticists search for the roots of humanity’s unique mental abilities, they are beginning to pay close attention to the ‘feminine’ X chromosome. Women have two copies of this chromosome, whereas men have only one. And the complete sequence of the X chromosome, published in Nature this week1 (see also News and Views, page 279), confirms that an unusually large number of its genes code for proteins important to brain function.

Why this should be the case is sparking debate among evolutionary biologists. And some are even suggesting that the X chromosome will tell us why we are different from our closest relatives — why we can write poetry and design nuclear weapons, but chimpanzees can’t. In a sense, they argue, the feminine chromosome could hold the secrets of humanity.

More here.