A Link Between Particle Physics and Avian Sex Chromosomes?

I am currently reading a book by physicist Brian Greene, entitled The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time and the Texture of RealityAlthough I am an evolutionary biologist, I am also quite interested in the latest developments in other scientific fields, such as physics. Especially, quantum mechanics and string theory are fascinating subjects. But the mathematical complexity surrounding these ideas are pretty scary to a biologist. Luckily, Brian Greene succeeds in clarifying the main concepts without using one mathematical formula. A marvelous achievement.

 

Greene

 

While working my way through the this book, I discovered an interesting (yet scientifically completely useless) coincidence. Both particle physicists and biologists use the same terminology for two completely unrelated issues. In particle physics, the weak nuclear force that governs the interactions between subatomic particles (quarks) is mediated by W and Z bosons. And in biology, the sex chromosomes in birds have been named…(hold on to your hats!) W and Z chromosomes! Pretty amazing, right? Not really, but it is a nice coincidence.

 

The interesting coincidence in terming different phenomena
The interesting coincidence in terming different phenomena

 

On a closing note, the reason for using W-Z in terminology is actually very different between both fields. The bosons are named after the Weak Force and Zero electrical charge. The naming of the avian sex chromosomes is even less exciting. Human sex chromosomes are known as X and Y (because of their shape). To describe their avian counterparts, I guess that scientists just used the two letters closest in the alphabet, W and Z. There may be a different explanation. If you know, please let me know or comment below!

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