What’s with the dancing X chromosomes?

Trademarked logoHave you noticed the Institute for Women’s Health Research logo?

Our logo features two “dancing” X-chromosomes shaded in spring green – representing fresh approaches to conducting research, and purple to show our commitment to creating interdisciplinary research teams in search of breakthrough sex- and gender-specific research at NU, whose official color is purple.

Now, onto the lesson plan, the following is what you will read in a physiology textbook…..With the exception of egg and sperm cells (germline cells), each cell (somatic cells) in the human body contains 46 chromosomes. These 46 chromosomes are divided into 22 pairs of autosomes and 1 pair of sex chromosomes.  Autosomes contain genes that are responsible for the development of the human body; they give us characteristics such hair and eye color or blood type. Sex chromosomes determine genetic sex and are generally made up of two X chromosomes (XX) in women or an X and a Y chromosome (XY) in men. The sex chromosomes contain genes that are responsible for the development of internal and external sex organs.

What is not discussed in traditional physiology textbooks are the relatively newer scientific discoveries surrounding the fact that EVERY cell in your body has a sex (not just your egg or sperm cells). For instance, a pancreatic islet cell will contain 22 pairs of autosomes and an XY pair in a male, but in a female the pancreatic islet cell will contain 22 pairs of autosomes and an XX pair. In other words a pancreatic islet is not exactly the same in a female and a male. Genes on the sex chromosomes are expressed differently in males and females and therefore the sex of cells needs to be taken into account when we conduct scientfic research. Because of these basic molecular differences scientists are starting to uncover distinct health differences (beyond the reproductive system) between males and females. The incessant problem of the past is that most research has been conducted in males (XY) and then applied to both women and men with sometimes devastating effects to women. The Institute for Women’s Health Research promotes scientific discoveries regarding the contribution of sex and gender to the overall experience of health and disease. Not only do we advocate for increased inclusion of females in research studies, we stress the importance of designing studies so they look specifically at sex and gender variables and that the results are reported appropriately to reflect any differences.