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The Y Guy

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By Meredith Salisbury

Rick Wilson says he and his team at Washington University volunteered to sequence the Y chromosome because they knew “it would be a very difficult region of the genome to sequence,” Wilson says. “We thought we’d be able to handle it.”

But anyone who’s seen his website knows there’s more to it. Features include Wilson’s second-degree blackbelt in tae kwon do, his personal fleet of telescopes, a sports page, rock bands, and his own home-brewed beers. “Sounds like the right kind of person to be sequencing the Y chromosome, huh?” he laughs. He’s more than the ultimate guy. He’s the Y guy.

Despite fears of retribution from female colleagues, Wilson pried himself away from his Live and Jackson Browne CDs to let GT in on the machismo.

He’s married and has — you’ll never guess — twin boys. Everyone in the family’s a blackbelt, but the others have turned to tennis. “They regularly beat up on me,” Wilson concedes, “but I can hit the ball really hard. That’s all that matters.”

Born in 1959 and raised in Ohio, Wilson went to Miami U. and proceeded to the University of Oklahoma for grad work. “They had really good football there,” he says. (My own allegiance to Notre Dame prompts an unwise jab at Oklahoma. Wilson readily joins the smack-talk: “I was there for a national championship. Were you?”)

But Wilson’s not all macho. “I don’t discriminate against any chromosome,” he insists — not even the X, which he helped sequence. And he doesn’t have a lifetime subscription to Maxim. Has he ever asked for directions? He hedges. “I can neither confirm nor deny that.”

There’s one question we’ve been dying to ask, and Wilson may be uniquely qualified to answer it. Why is the X so much longer than the Y? After thinking for a moment, he settles on an answer. “Good things come in small packages,” he observes.

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