In the late 1980s, Peter Goodfellow in London, UK led a team of researchers who showed that the SRY gene in humans codes a protein that causes testes to develop in embryos. During this time, scientists in London and Paris, including Peter Koompan and John Gubbay, proposed that SRY was the gene on the Y chromosome responsible for encoding the testis-determining factor (TDF) protein. The TDF is a protein that initiates embryo to develop male characteristics. Looking for evidence that SRY was the TDF, Goodfellow and colleagues examined people who were anatomically female, but whose cells had Y chromosomes. Females normally have cells with two X sex chromosomes (XX), while males normally have cells with one X and one Y chromosome (XY). Goodfellow's team discovered that individuals with Y chromosomes developed as female instead of as male due to inactive SRY sequences on the Y chromosome. Goodfellow and colleagues compiled the results of their experiment in a paper titled Genetic Evidence Equating SRY and the Testis-Determining Factor in 1990. Their results showed that the SRY gene is necessary for male characteristics to develop in embryos, and that SRY encodes the TDF protein.

The Sex-determining Region Y (Sry in mammals but SRY in humans) is a gene found on Y chromosomes that leads to the development of male phenotypes, such as testes. The Sry gene, located on the short branch of the Y chromosome, initiates male embryonic development in the XY sex determination system. The Sry gene follows the central dogma of molecular biology; the DNA encoding the gene is transcribed into messenger RNA, which then produces a single Sry protein. The Sry protein is also called the testis-determining factor (TDF), a protein that initiates male development in humans, placental mammals, and marsupials. The Sry protein is a transcription factor that can bind to regions of testis-specific DNA, bending specific DNA and activating or enhancing its abilities to promote testis formation, marking the first step towards male, rather than female, development in the embryo.

Early 1990s research conducted by Peter Koopman, John Gubbay, Nigel Vivian, Peter Goodfellow, and Robin Lovell-Badge, showed that chromosomally female (XX) mice embryos can develop as male with the addition of a genetic fragment from the Y chromosome of male mice. The genetic fragment contained a segment of the mouse Sry gene, which is analogous to the human SRY gene. The researchers sought to identify Sry gene as the gene that produced the testis determining factor protein (Tdf protein in mice or TDF protein in humans), which initiates the formation of testis. Koopman's team published their results in 1991 in Male Development of Chromosomally Female Mice Transgenic for Sry gene. Their results showed that Sry gene partly determines the sex of an embryo and is the only gene on the Y chromosome necessary for initiation of male development in mice.

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.

The Y-chromosome is one of a pair of chromosomes that determine the genetic sex of individuals in mammals, some insects, and some plants. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the development of new microscopic and molecular techniques, including DNA sequencing, enabled scientists to confirm the hypothesis that chromosomes determine the sex of developing organisms. In an adult organism, the genes on the Y-chromosome help produce the male gamete, the sperm cell. Beginning in the 1980s, many studies of human populations used the Y-chromosome gene sequences to trace paternal lineages. In mammals, the Y-chromosomes contain the master-switch gene for sex determination, called the sex-determining region Y, or the SRY gene in humans. In most normal cases, if a fertilized egg cell, called a zygote, has the SRY gene, the zygote develops into an embryos that has male sex traits. If the zygote lacks the SRY gene or if the SRY gene is defective, the zygote develops into an embryo that has female sex traits.

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.

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.

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