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A friend of mine heard an interesting article on NPR the other day, discussing various thoughts about biological basis of sexual orientation. The piece can be found here.

He threw it out to see what my thoughts were. I figured I'd repost them here, as well, in case anyone would like to discuss the topic.


That's an interesting piece. The first thing I thought of was that you could use my company's products to conduct a big genetic study on the topic -- if you could get funding for it. It sounds like a situation where, if there are causal genetic factors, there isn't one big factor that's "you have this, you're gay." It sounds more like, if you have factor A your chances of being homosexual increase by 10-15%; and the same for factors B-Z. So if you have a combination of 10 of those factors, yeah we'll be seeing you at Pride. I think that model could support a behavioral continuum, which is what I tend to personally believe based on experience and talking with lots of folks.

Which is interesting, because lots of "genetically complex" diseases are the same way. We're learning that  Type 2 Diabetes is linked to a panel of genes, all of which increase risk for getting the disease by 20% or so over the population. Same thing with heart disease, prostate disease may be similar (but down to fewer genes with a higher relative risk), and there are studies looking at schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, Crohn's disease. Basically, we're realizing that Mendel's rules of inheritance are like genetics' version of Newtonian physics; true, yes, but they only apply for simplified cases. The rules of inheritance for most genetic traits are, like the Einsteinian model physics, much more complex and subtle.

Which is a long answer to a short question. Meanwhile, C the sociology person is sitting here adamantly stressing the importance of social and cultural environment, and the distinction between same-sex identity versus same-sex behavior.

In short, no easy answer to this. And I suspect, no real answer for a very long time.

And also, I have two male hands, whatever that means. :)
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Artificial Snot Enhances Electronic Nose.

I wouldn't want to be the maintenance tech on those things...
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Press Release from the Max Planck Society

The Chimpanzee Stone Age

Researchers have found evidence that chimpanzees from West Africa were cracking nuts with stone tools before the advent of agriculture, thousands of years ago. The result suggests chimpanzees developed this behaviour on their own, or even that stone tool use was a trait inherited from our common ancestor. Julio Mercader, Christophe Boesch and colleagues found the stones at the Noulo site in Côte d’Ivoire, the only known prehistoric chimpanzee settlement. The stones they excavated show the hallmarks of use as tools for smashing nuts when compared to ancient human or modern chimpanzee stone tools. Also, they found several types of starch grains on the stones; part of the residue derived from cracking local nuts. The tools are 4300 years old, which, in human terms, corresponds to the Later Stone Age (PNAS, February 2007).

Before this study, chimpanzees were first observed using stone tools in the 19th century. Now, thanks to this new archaeological find, tool use by chimpanzees has been pushed back thousands of years. The authors suggest this type of tool use could have originated with our common ancestor, instead of arising independently among hominins and chimpanzees or through imitation of humans by chimpanzees.

This study confirmed that chimpanzees and human ancestors share for thousands of years several cultural attributes once thought exclusive of humanity, including transport of raw materials across the landscape; selection and curation of raw materials for a specific type of work and projected usage; habitual reoccupation of sites where garbage and debris accumulate; and the use of locally available resources. Nut cracking behaviour in chimpanzees is transmitted socially, and the new discoveries presented in this study shows that such behaviour has been transmitted over the course of many chimpanzee generations. Chimpanzee prehistory has deep roots!

The study of our living closest relative, the chimpanzee, constantly highlights new aspects of human evolution, and a better protection of this endangered species will guarantee that we can continue uncovering new facets of our past. Relevant finds come from all parts of the African continent, including the rainforest, and not just the classical east African homeland.

Ooooh

Nov. 9th, 2006 09:49 am
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Noted biologist plans UCSD lab

*mulls genomics field*
*mulls bioinformatics necessary to do that sort of genomics work*
*ponders resume*

Ooooooooh.
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Panel: Female scientists are not actually dumber

I did not want to miss a mention of this story from Monday's New York Times about a panel convened by the National Academy of Sciences to determine why female scientists are grossly outnumbered by men at the highest levels of academia. The panel concluded that the problem lies not with the female brain but with the "outmoded institutional structures" of academia. Shocker.

The panel's report, "Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering," dealt in part with the question raised last year by former Harvard president Larry Summers, about whether the paucity of upper-echelon female academic scientists is related to "innate" intellectual differences between the sexes. The panel dismissed this idea, noting that if there are cognitive differences, they are small and irrelevant. In fact, according to the Times, the study concluded that the "gender gap in math performance has all but disappeared as more and more girls enroll in demanding classes. Even among very high achievers, the gap is narrowing."

But why then, when women earn 30 percent of social and behavioral science doctorates, and 20 percent of life science Ph.D.s, do they become full professors at less than half those rates? And why are minority women "virtually absent" from high-level science departments? According to the report, these are not related to commonly held assumptions about women -- that they think competition is yucky or are pulled to spend more time with their families than men are -- but because of "arbitrary and subjective" evaluation processes and because anyone "lacking the work and family support traditionally provided by a 'wife' is at a serious disadvantage." What an interesting formulation that is. That working women are at a disadvantage not because they may be wives but because they don't have wives.

The report recommended several changes to improve and equalize professional conditions for women, including that universities alter their hiring and evaluation processes, offer more support to working parents and change tenure timetables.

The panel also concluded that we need to even the playing field for women in the sciences, since the United States cannot afford "such underuse of precious human capital" and brainpower. "Unless a deeper talent pool is tapped, it will be difficult for our country to maintain our competitiveness in science and engineering," said Donna Shalala, former secretary of health and human services and current president of the University of Miami, who chaired the panel.

Panelist Ruth Simmons, president of Brown, said, "The data don't lie. There are lots of arguments one could have mounted 30 years ago, but 30 years later we have incontrovertible data that women do have the ability to do science and engineering at a very high level." The question, she said, is "Why aren't they electing these fields when the national need and the opportunities in the fields are so great?"

-- Rebecca Traister

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The Inner Workings of a Cell.

A bit of animation that is too cool for words.
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1. New Clues to How HIV works. Not only have researchers identified the "molecular switch" that gets turned off in HIV-specific killer T cells, they've been able (in cell culture) to turn it back on. The results are very preliminary but justifiably exciting.

2. A Biotech company has devised a simple way of creating stem cell lines without destroying an embryo. Granted, it's not revolutionary. There's no "eureka" moment. Just a simple, straightforward method to circumvent the most popular argument against stem cell research.
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New Evidence Directly Supporting the Existence of Dark Matter

Dudes, that's seriously exciting. Of course, some of us suspect the particle theory is only partially correct; nevertheless this is important data.

effin' a

Jun. 7th, 2006 11:19 am
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Why is the NCBI site punking out on me?!??
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Happiness is... journal articles freely available online.
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Is your kid whiny, unpleasant, insecure? Don't fret. He can eventually get a job on Fox News—According to a study in the Journal of Research into Personality [not posted], disagreeable and insecure kids grow up to be conservatives. Confident, self-reliant children grow up to be liberals. But you know all that, right? Back in the 1960s, a husband and wife team, Jack and Jeanne Block at Berkeley began tracking more than 100 nursery school kids to study their personality. Using teachers and assistants, the Blocks surveyed the kids' personalities. Politics never entered the picture.

A few decades later, Block (his wife had since died) went back to the kids and looked at their personalities. The unpleasant and rigid kids turned into rigid young people who hewed closely to traditional gender roles and were uncomfortable with ambiguity. And politically, they were conservatives. Confident kids turned out to bright, non-conformists. The girls were extroverts, the young men a little introverted. And both sexes were politically liberal.

Actually, this is not the first time similar research produced similar findings. In 2003, a Stanford researcher, John Jost, concluded that people who are dogmatic, fearful, intolerant of ambiguity and uncertainty, and who crave order, are likely to tend conservative. He got a congressional investigation as a result, no doubt from guys where were really brats when they were babies.
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Go read Joel Shurkin's latest blog which discusses recent findings which suggest cannabis may have broad anti-cancer properties.
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SCIENCE!


Figure 3. When we examine a transfected system, basal activity is a measurable amount since there is a 1000 fold higher number of receptors compared to the native system. This means that there are 1000 times as many receptors that randomly assume the active conformation vs. native cells. Thus, constitutive receptor activity is measurable in the absence of agonist. In this case, addition of agonist alone also produces a classical concentration-response. Addition of antagonist alone will produce no response. Addition of the inverse agonist stabilizes the inactive conformation of the receptor and drives the equilibrium away from the active conformation. Thus addition of inverse agonist reduces the constitutive activity of the receptor and inhibits basal activity.


KEEN


1. http://medicine.creighton.edu/pharmacology/inverse.htm
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Scientists Spot a new Earthlike Planet.

“Its incredible to think that we went from 10 years ago having no planet to now having over 100 gas giants and even starting to find the first terrestrial planets,” said Alan Boss, a theorist at the Carnegie Institution of Washington who did not participate in the discovery. “That’s just an amazing leap.”

Article can be found here.

sweet news

Jan. 19th, 2006 05:01 pm
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Secret to Chocolate's Health Benefits Identified

Everybody eat your dark chocolate, it's good for your heart!

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Intercourse, the penguin

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