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.




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!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s