Theophilus Shickel Painter studied the structure and function of chromosomes in the US during in the early to mid-twentieth century. Painter worked at the University of Texas at Austin in Austin, Texas. In the 1920s and 1930s, Painter studied the chromosomes of the salivary gland giant chromosomes of the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster), with Hermann J. Muller. Muller and Painter studied the ability of X-rays to cause changes in the chromosomes of fruit flies. Painter also studied chromosomes in mammals. He investigated the development of the male gamete, a process called spermatogenesis, in several invertebrates and vertebrates, including mammals. In addition, Painter studied the role the Y-chromosome plays in the determination and development of the male embryo. Painter's research concluded that egg cells fertilized by sperm cell bearing an X-chromosome resulted in a female embryo, whereas egg cells fertilized by a sperm cell carrying a Y-chromosome resulted in a male embryo. Painter's work with chromosomes helped other researchers determine that X- and Y-chromosomes are responsible for sex determination.
In humans, sex determination is the process that determines the biological sex of an offspring and, as a result, the sexual characteristics that they will develop. Humans typically develop as either male or female, primarily depending on the combination of sex chromosomes that they inherit from their parents. The human sex chromosomes, called X and Y, are structures in human cells made up of tightly bound deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, and proteins. Those are molecules that contain the instructions for the development and functioning of all life forms, including the development of physical traits and body parts that correspond with each biological sex. Humans who inherit two X chromosomes typically develop as females, while humans with one X and one Y chromosome typically develop as males. Sex determination is the beginning of the development of many characteristics that influence how a human looks and functions as well as the societal expectations that other humans have for each other.
In 1993, Dean H. Hamer and colleagues in the US published results from their research that indicated that men with speicifc genes were more likely to be homosexual than were men without those genes. The study hypothesized that some X chromosomes contain a gene, Xq28, that increases the likelihood of an individual to be homosexual. Prior to those results, researchers had argued that the cause of homosexuality was environmental and that homosexuality could be altered or reversed. Hamer’s research suggested a possible genetic cause of homosexuality. The study inspired further research into biological mechanisms of homosexuality.
Calvin Blackman Bridges studied chromosomes and heredity in the US throughout the early twentieth century. Bridges performed research with Thomas Hunt Morgan at Columbia University in New York City, New York, and at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California. Bridges and Morgan studied heredity in Drosophila, the common fruit fly. Throughout the early twentieth century, researchers were gathering evidence that genes, or what Gregor Mendel had called the factors that control heredity, are located on chromosomes. At Columbia, Morgan disputed the theory, but in 1916, Calvin Bridges published evidence that, according to Morgan, did much to convince skeptics of that theory. Bridges also established that specific chromosomes function in determining sex in Drosophila.
Alfred Henry Sturtevant studied heredity in fruit flies in the US throughout the twentieth century. From 1910 to 1928, Sturtevant worked in Thomas Hunt Morgan’s research lab in New York City, New York. Sturtevant, Morgan, and other researchers established that chromosomes play a role in the inheritance of traits. In 1913, as an undergraduate, Sturtevant created one of the earliest genetic maps of a fruit fly chromosome, which showed the relative positions of genes along the chromosome. At the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, he later created one of the first fate maps, which tracks embryonic cells throughout their development into an adult organism. Sturtevant’s contributions helped scientists explain genetic and cellular processes that affect early organismal development.
From 1913 to 1916, Calvin Bridges performed experiments that indicated genes are found on chromosomes. His experiments were a part of his doctoral thesis advised by Thomas Hunt Morgan in New York, New York. In his experiments, Bridges studied Drosophila, the common fruit fly, and by doing so showed that a process called nondisjunction caused chromosomes, under some circumstances, to fail to separate when forming sperm and egg cells. Nondisjunction, as described by Bridges, caused sperm or egg cells to contain abnormal amounts of chromosomes. In some cases, that caused the offspring produced by the sperm or eggs to display traits that they would typically not have. His research on nondisjunction provided evidence that chromosomes carry genetic traits, including those that determine the sex of an organism.
In 1910, Thomas Hunt Morgan performed an experiment at Columbia University, in New York City, New York, that helped identify the role chromosomes play in heredity. That year, Morgan was breeding Drosophila, or fruit flies. After observing thousands of fruit fly offspring with red eyes, he obtained one that had white eyes. Morgan began breeding the white-eyed mutant fly and found that in one generation of flies, the trait was only present in males. Through more breeding analysis, Morgan found that the genetic factor controlling eye color in the flies was on the same chromosome that determined sex. That result indicated that eye color and sex were both tied to chromosomes and helped Morgan and colleagues establish that chromosomes carry the genes that allow offspring to inherit traits from their parents.
In 1913, Alfred Henry Sturtevant published the results of experiments in which he showed how genes are arranged along a chromosome. Sturtevant performed those experiments as an undergraduate at Columbia University, in New York, New York, under the guidance of Nobel laureate Thomas Hunt Morgan. Sturtevant studied heredity using Drosophila, the common fruit fly. In his experiments, Sturtevant determined the relative positions of six genetic factors on a fly’s chromosome by creating a process called gene mapping. Sturtevant’s work on gene mapping inspired later mapping techniques in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, techniques that helped scientists identify regions of the chromosome that when mutated cause organisms to develop abnormally and to create treatments to cure those kinds of disorders.
Y-chromosomes exist in the body cells of many kinds of male animals. Found in the nucleus of most living animal cells, the X and Y-chromosomes are condensed structures made of DNA wrapped around proteins called histones. The individual histones bunch into groups that the coiled DNA wraps around called a nucleosome, which are roughly 10 nano-meters (nm) across. The histones bunch together to form a helical fiber (30 nm) that spins into a supercoil (200 nm). During much of a cell's life, DNA exists in the 200 nm supercoil phase.