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  • Mein Schatz 11:01 am on November 15, 2010 Permalink
    Tags: dengue fever, genetics, ,   

    Fighting Dengue Fever by Releasing More Mosquitoes 

    Mosquitoes are the bane of the tropical world. They bite, they itch, they spread countless diseases among the human and animal populations. The builders of the Panama Canal around the turn of the 20th century found that massive amounts of DDT temporarily solved the annoying pestilence, but dumping untold volumes of poison in the environment is hardly a long-term solution. Like any smart assemblage of genetic material, the mosquito knows that if it just keeps breeding, even in the worst of times, eventually one or a billion of its offspring will find a way around mankind’s chemical solutions. Right alongside the ever-burgeoning mosquito population rides a tidal wave of evolving bacteria, viruses, and parasites, each becoming more and more resistant to our anti-biotic warfare. One such is dengue fever, which admittedly has never blinked an eye at the lackluster attempts at controlling it medically, a disease with no treatment, prophylactic, or cure save avoiding the buzzing bloodsuckers that carry it. Now Oxford scientists have developed a genetically modified male mosquito, which born in captivity to be dependent on tetracycline to survive, once released into the wild can breed with normal females and pass this trait on to unwitting offspring. Since there are few mosquito-sized pharmacy windows in the deep bush of Africa and Southeast Asia, the now genetically doomed children of these captivity-born males are fated to a short and painful life, if they are ever born at all. Since the female that spawns them only mates once then dies, this ultimately means that each essentially sterile male released into the population serves at a genetic endpoint for the female as well. Of course, you could ask the question: what happens when one of these offspring develops a suppressing trait for this genetic handicap?

    So we filled in the gaps with frog DNA...

  • Mein Schatz 11:37 pm on April 14, 2010 Permalink
    Tags: genetics, transgender,   

    A Third Gender? 

    Male, Female Sex SymbolsI’m pretty sure, at least according millions of years of evolution, there are two viable sexualities allowed by the human genome. This is generally considered the provenience of the curious combination of two grossly mismatched DNA polymers affectionately known as the X and Y chromosomes. One particular segment of the Y chromosome, known as the SRY gene, is responsible for starting the cascade of developmental changes, resulting in the expression of other Y genes that radiate from the testes. Lack of this gene ultimately results in a lack of male sexual development, a decidedly feminine body-type, and other problems, and is relatively rare. Translocation of the SRY gene onto a female X results in male-like development, albeit with considerable variance, and sterility as a result of non-existent reproductive genes, and occurs in less than 1 in 20,000 individuals.

    These real medical conditions, among other relatively rare genetic disorders that can result in unusual sexual development, are not to be confused with the situation of most of the so-called “trans-gender” community, generally physiologically normal people who have felt some mental trauma in regards to their biologically assigned sex and have decided to take medicinal, therapeutic, and sometimes surgical means to change this assignment. CNN.com recently ran an article describing the lives of a handful of American transgenders and describing their disorder in terms of a life decision, one that we should even accept and embrace as an inclusive, free society.

    I say no. As stated above, there are real, genetic disorders that result in confused biological development. These are unfortunate, however considerably uncommon, and the questions of how one of these individuals can fit into a two-sex society are difficult to answer. Surgery, hormones, therapy, none of these will ever make a square peg fit in a round hole. But at what point does the “genetic destiny” line become fuzzy to the point of nonsense? And why should I accept someone into my society who decides, without any real medical evidence to support it, to mutilate their bodies and deceive the society around them? I can’t come up with a good reason to suggest that these people are even sane. I wouldn’t consider someone who cut off their own healthy arm or leg to be sane, nor would I consider someone who dyed their skin to resemble another race to be sane. Without going on, I am apt to criticize CNN for encouraging the clinically insane to pursue their insanity in such a way.

    • The Bruce 12:02 pm on April 16, 2010 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      Preach it.

    • Mein Schatz 12:54 pm on April 16, 2010 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      I am posting a thread that arose from this post as it was linked on facebook.

      KV – Admittedly deviations from what is assumed to be such a fundamental dichotomy, such as sex, are uncomfortable and something our society hasn’t yet adapted to. However, this phenomenon occurs all over the globe and has been recorded through time. In my opinion, its ubiquity through time and across space speaks to its validity, both biological and psychological.

      It seems logical to accept that something which occurs across cultural and temporal boundaries is less likely the result of a psychological deficiency and more likely a natural part of human variation.

      Schatz – At what bounds does “natural human variation” end and psychosis begin? As I stated above, I cannot see the self-mutilation that is gender reassignment surgery as being in any way part of natural human variation, but rather a mental disorder that should not be condoned.
      I question whether examples like these can really be mirrored throughout time as you suggest, seeing as the technological capabilities for these types of procedures have really only emerged in recent decades. Have there been gender-confused individuals throughout time? probably. Are they accepted in some cultures? yes, although generally with major caveats. I remember watching a documentary on the history of transgenders in India, and in general it was not a good relationship. They are basically seen as non-people.
      I don’t think the assumption that biological sexuality can be seen as anything but a fundamental dichotomy, where evolution and reproduction are concerned. as far as recreation goes, we all know that is another story, and the bounds of society are growing ever more lax in that regard.

      KV – The idea of a psychosis is entirely culturally constructed – they have no inherent empirical meaning. The real question at hand here is your tolerance-limit for what constitutes a psychosis. In my opinion, wanting to undergo gender-reassignment is no more a psychosis than basing your actions in life on what you believe an invisible, omnipotent being wants you to do so you can go to ‘heaven’.

      You are correct that gender-reassignment procedures have not always been available. However, non-surgical gender reassignment has been practiced in many cultures through time in the form of people taking on the cultural role of the gender they perceive themselves as. Your example form India, the hijra – men who live as women, demonstrates this nicely. Further, not all cultures that recognize more than two genders do so negatively. For examples I suggest the Navajo and Lakota cultures – both of which hold non-negative views on the matter.

      I also think you are conflating a biological term, sex, with a cultural construction, gender. Sex, in the biological sense, is by definition, dichotomous – I take no issue with its use as such. Gender however, is an entirely different matter whose definition is variably constructed and dynamic both inter and intra culturally.

      You clearly disagree with the decision some individuals make to undergo a surgical procedure where to ‘reassign’ their gender. I simply don’t understand why that is – no one is asking you to have one. Do you take similar issue with people who chose to alter their appearance in other surgical ways (ie plastic surgery)?

      Ultimately it seems we’re going to have to agree to hold different opinions on the matter. The primary thing I wanted to point out was that this phenomenon is not unique to our culture or our time. It is something that has been observed for at least the last 4,000 years in cultures that span the globe. For me, that persistence is sufficient to convince me that it is a natural part of human variation. Therefore, I choose to support people who have to deal with the matter by not labeling them as crazy and treating them the same as I would anyone else.

      schatz – I’m not really sure why something which is observed for any period of time in “cultures across the globe” makes it a sane and logical expression of humanity. Cannibalism and child rape occur in cultures across the world at much higher frequencies than transgender behavior, and these are concomitantly rejected by society as psychotic behavior. Can you say that psychosis in these instances is merely culturally constructed, deserving no more attention than wearing a white dress at a wedding or shaking hands when we meet someone new?

      I am not proposing to treat these confused people as any less than human beings, but I cannot see the benefit to them or society as a whole of supporting their delusions. They should be getting medical help, not a scalpel and a bottle of hormones to solve their problems. Now, if it truly is an inherent genetic variation, these alleles should be leaving the gene pool of their own accord, and its really not something to be overly concerned about; however, i am concerned that many confused young people will see behaviors like these and jump to radical conclusions that surgery and drugs are the answer to their problems. I suppose i am stepping outside of this narrow issue on this commentary and criticizing our society as a whole for its permissiveness of these types of self-destructive behaviors. I chose examples of a man who cut off his own legs because they felt “wrong” and a man who dyed his skin white to change the appearance of his race as similar situations.

      KV – Like I said, I think we’re going to have to agree to have different opinions.

      My point at the end of my previous post was that human variation encompasses a lot of things that our cultures do not deal with very well. One of the primary purposes of society is to regulate sex so naturally transgender people throw a wrench into the gears in that respect – our culture especially does not have a good mechanism for incorporating them. So, in this case, it seems to me that transgender individuals seem to exist all over the place and have for a long time – leading to the conclusion that the behavior is not unnatural but rather a natural part of the human behavioral phenotype that our culture just doesn’t cope with very well, so it seems un-natural.

      I don’t think that cannibalism is a very good example of universally accepted abhorrent behavior. Cultures that practice it do so as a group – and view it as a natural part of their society. I think that child rape is also problematic. While our cultural understanding of what constitutes a child and what constitutes rape has a very negative connotation those definitions are not comparable to across cultures – they are not universal human truths. For example, we would consider an adult male having oral and/or anal sex with a young boy a form of child rape, or at least abuse – but the Sambia (Highland New Guinea) would view it as a completely natural thing – something essential for the boy’s development and survival.

      The point I am contending is that transgender people are suffering from some kind of delusion or psychosis. I have studied gender issues extensively and believe strongly that the matter is biological in nature and not the byproduct of psychological problems. I think that the ethnographic and historic evidence supports that this phenomenon is widespread (spatially and temporally) and therefore a natural expression of the human phenotype – not a byproduct of mental dysfunction.

      • The Bruce 4:34 pm on April 16, 2010 Permalink

        So many aspects of this transcript sadden my heart that I am not sure where to begin… The misguided spiritual pot shot aside, it is truly heart breaking to see a belief in moral and cultural relativism so passionately espoused that it justifies child rape.

      • Mein Schatz 5:01 pm on April 16, 2010 Permalink

        Its hard to argue when someone says “everything is permissible in the right context,” I look at the argument by saying, yes, these things occur in very infrequent capacities in isolated cultures around the world. It may work for them in their limited capacity, but these are not functional moral systems found in a wide variety of circumstances, nor are they functional in a larger society. The examples that he casts aside are primitive, bestial behaviors that have been thrown aside by every culture that has developed out of the stone age. I can’t understand how one can see examples of animal behavior in a segment of the human population as embrace it as merely “part of the human variation.” It is a part that has no place in modern society.

    • pslarkin 10:03 am on April 18, 2010 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      A Bruce: Where did you read KV’s justification for such a heinous act? Also, where did the author pass outright judgement on moral relativism? Don’t let your heart be broken. No one is justifying child rape here.

      Schatz: You write that major caveats are present in societies that accept “gender confused” people. Can you highlight these caveats and describe real-world examples? I’m looking for a quantitative report, rather than a qualitative assessment.

      • Mein Schatz 9:55 pm on April 18, 2010 Permalink

        KV gives justifications for child rape and cannibalism in the last post of our conversation by saying that they are considered normal, traditional, and even essential in the cultures in which they occur. he justifies child rape by saying it depends “…what constitutes a child and what constitutes rape…. an adult male having oral and/or anal sex with a young boy… [is in the highlands of New Guinea] a completely natural thing – something essential for the boy’s development and survival ”

        my first major caveat is that behaviors on the fringe of the human norm do occur in some societies, but these societies are usually very small, very primitive, and the actions are highly ritualized. to go to a specific example that we talked about briefly: the hirja men in India. They essentially live as women in certain parts of the country. I remember watching a documentary on them a few years ago, and yes, they are embraced by a certain segment of the Indian population for a certain few days out of the year, when they have a big festival where men have sex with these women-men. from what i learned, they are then cast aside as the lowest of the low and shunned until the next time a sex festival comes around. My memory is a little sketchy on this one though.

        i will reiterate my main caveats: small cultures, primitive cultures, highly ritualized cultures that have evolved with these types of behaviors. The fact that these things exist is not justification for their acceptance in our culture. As I said before, child rape and cannibalism are accepted in some cultures around the world, but our society has deemed child rape a crime because of the emotional immaturity of the child and the potential psychological and physical damage it can cause. cannibalism is also a crime for similar reasons, and scientifically cannibalism is a terrible idea because it leads to prion diseases like mad cow disease and kuru, a human variant, which is caused by generational cannibalism.

        I am not intending to downplay any real mental anguish that these confused people are suffering due to some twist of genetic fate, but i am suggesting that the solution to their problem should not be looked for at the end of a scalpel or in a bottle of pills. i would say that to a man who wanted to cut off a healthy limb or dye his skin black to imitate another race or to a woman who wants her fifteenth eye lift to try to look like she’s 18 again. Our culture, as tolerant as it has become of uniqueness and variation, may be encouraging drastic, irreversible measures to people without the mental or emotional stability to be making those types of choices. In the end, if you want to go chop off your johnson with a pair of pruning shears and stuff socks under your shirt for the rest of your life, i’m going to support your right to do so, but I don’t support the notion that these should be promoted as positive, life-affirming choices that benefit our society.

        I also don’t ever want to pay for it, by the way, which is where this whole argument is going. If we acknowledge these surgeries to be medically sound decisions for a wide variety psychologically disturbed people, we open the door to government spending in areas where government dollars have no business.

    • pslarkin 9:25 pm on April 19, 2010 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      I’ll save detailed discussion for another day/medium. As a parting comment I must ask if you have considered that your proposed effects of a tolerant society may be vague, or non existent at all, given that your examples mostly consist of “small cultures”. Im finding it intellectually difficult to relate the ill defined nature (as written here) of one New Guinea tribal practice to the cultures of those in different and decidedly more complex cultures. Discussing cannibalism in this manner is more problematic. This has almost no proxy in western culture and thus is unsuccessful in explaining the caveats of sexual identity and the acceptance of its various forms in modern societies.

      I concede that your example of Hijra (Kothi) Men is strong in some regards. It seems that some of the practices associated are detrimental to the individuals and communities involved. However I am still curious how we could possibly conclude some sort of relationship between the western version of cultural tolerance and grossly inappropriate behavior…..especially in terms of determining a strong correlation between uncommon sexual identities and their acceptance within south east asian/Indian mainstream cultures and our own.

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