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Whitehead Team Maps Y Chromosome

A research team led by Dr. David Page of the Whitehead Institute has cloned the entire functional portion of the human Y chromosome. Dr. Page is an associate member of Whitehead, associate professor in the Department of Biology, and assistant investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

The work he directed, published in the October 2 issue of Science, and was reported in an article in Nature by a group which charted chromosome 21, were widely reported as major steps in the effort to map human DNA and determine the location of the estimated 100,000 human genes.

Many newspapers reported on the accomplishments in front-page articles. In The New York Times, Natalie Angier said the developments offered "persuasive evidence that the extensive and widely heralded effort to analyze the entire human genetic blueprint is thus far living up to its promise." The Washington Post likened the work "to early exploration of the American frontier."

The new Y map, consisting of 196 overlapping recombinant DNA clones, will greatly enhance efforts to identify individual genes on the Y chromosome, expedite the more comprehensive task of identifying all genes, and provide material for large-scale sequencing, the Whitehead Institute said in an announcement of the work of Dr. Page and his team prepared by Eve Nichols, director of public information.

"One of the central scientific goals of the US Human Genome Project is to assemble by 1995 physical maps of all human chromosomes with easily identifiable, ordered markers spaced at regular intervals," the Whitehead announcement said.

Mapping of the Y chromosome-completed by three people in just 18 months-demonstrates the feasibility of strategies required to achieve this goal.

Authors of the Science paper on overlapping DNA clones in the Y chromosome were Dr. Simon Foote and Dr. Douglas Vollrath, both Whitehead postdoctoral fellows; Adrienne Hilton, Whitehead technical assistant, and Dr. Page.

Authors of the Science paper on the 43-interval map of the Y chromosome, in addition to Foote, Vollrath, Hilton and Page, were Laura G. Brown, Whitehead technical associate; Peggy Beer-Romero, former Whitehead technical associate, and Dr. Jonathan S. Bogan, a medical student who formerly worked in Dr. Page's laboratory.

Dr. Page and his colleagues said the Y chromosome was a particularly appropriate target for the initial mapping effort because its estimated 60 million base pairs makes it among the smallest of human chromosomes. The entire genome contains about 3 billion base pairs.

The work showed, the Washington Post reported, that it is possible to subdivide the huge range of DNA that gene mappers must search for into manageable territories without losing a crucial sense of location.

The Post quoted Dr. Page as saying, "We have not only a map of the road, we have the road itself in little pieces. You can think of this as sort of building infrastructure" for future work in actually finding genes.

The Post also sought the view of MIT Biology Professor Eric S. Lander, a Whitehead member and director of the MIT Center for Genome Research, quoting him as saying: "What this research describes are maps in the manner of Lewis and Clark. They are very broad-brush. They are not maps with the detail of those of the local zoning board. Nevertheless, each time surveyors go out they build their maps on the previous ones. That is why, in any field, the first map is very special."

A version of this article appeared in the October 7, 1992 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 37, Number 9).

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