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Sex ItselfThe Search for Male and Female in the Human Genome$
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Sarah S. Richardson

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780226084688

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2014

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226084718.001.0001

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How the X and Y Became the Sex Chromosomes

How the X and Y Became the Sex Chromosomes

(p.41) Chapter 3 How the X and Y Became the Sex Chromosomes
Sex Itself

Sarah S. Richardson

University of Chicago Press

Though scientists discovered the X and Y at the turn of the twentieth century, it took at least two decades for “sex chromosome” to stabilize as the technical term of choice for these odd chromosomes. Exploring terminological debates over what to call the X and Y, this chapter uncovers geneticists’ early worries about the distorting effect of conceiving of these unusual chromosomes as the sex chromosomes. These concerns were swept aside in the 1910s and 1920s as the “chromosome for sex” was caught up in the effort to evangelize the new chromosomal theory of heredity (Ch. 3) and in the new science of sex hormones (Ch. 4). The discovery and validation of the sex chromosomes fueled the development of the chromosomal theory of heredity, establishing the physical basis for Mendelian heredity, and opened the door for the systematic experimental study of genetic mutation, linkage, and organization. As this chapter shows, the clear way in which the X and Y marked sex difference became important in the recruitment of the biological community to the new chromosomal theory of sex and as the central technology of the “sex-linkage” research program that confirmed the chromosomal basis of Mendelian traits.

Keywords:   Chromosomal theory of heredity, Thomas Hunt Morgan, Mendelism, Sex linkage, Scientific terminology

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