From the moment that the major part of the mammalian Y chromosome ceased to recombine with the X, the action of Muller's ratchet began to whittle away at it to remove all but the essential genes. Consequently, by comparison with their respective X homologues, both human and mouse Y chromosomes are relatively small and probably contain very few genes in a fabric of accumulated junk. Nevertheless, molecular biologists have not been deterred from searching for Y-linked genes and in recent years this has become an increasingly popular pastime. Although hard to find, any Y-linked genes are likely to play important roles in either sex determination or male fertility, a fact which has spurred the search.

How many genes are likely to be present on the chromosome? If we accept the hypothesis that most genes are preceded by an HpaII tiny fragment (HTF) island, we can place an upper limit on the number of genes by considering the frequency with which such islands occur on the chromosome.

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