Daily Data Dump (Friday)

By Razib Khan | May 7, 2010 12:32 pm

Digital Quantification of Human Eye Color Highlights Genetic Association of Three New Loci. I was going to blog this, but obviously I got distracted. The best part of this paper is that they used a quantitative measure of eye color differences, instead of categorical binning. They confirmed the importance of the HERC2-OCA2 region in blue vs. brown eye color differences, but by using a more fine-grained description of the phenotype managed to smoke out other loci.

Is Mental Illness Good For You? One issue which I am much more conscious of now than I was a few years ago are the cultural preconditions for mental illness diagnosis. I come from a background predisposed to accept the maxim “chemistry for better living,” so I have no deep fear of drugs. But, I know people in my own life who have been put on anti-depressant medication almost as a preventative measure, and, last year I read The Vertigo Years: Europe 1900-1914. The book is not about mental illness, but I was struck by how many obviously culturally constructed mental illnesses existed which we don’t even remember now. This is not to deny real mental illness which is a function of biological abnormalities, or environmental stress or shock. But the very high penetration of diagnoses of mental illness should be viewed with skepticism, and needs no deep evolutionary explanation. It’s culture.

New York Judges Resist Claims by Debt Collectors. Some debt collectors seem to be suing people who don’t even owe debts. It seems that economically some law firms have found this efficient and profitable. The one named in the article is Eltman, Eltman & Cooper. Their staff pages seems peculiarly denuded. Here’s their Ripoff Report page.

Deconstructing the crash. There are still debates about Black Monday in 1987. I’m glad I read The Misbehavior of Markets: A Fractal View of Financial Turbulence.

I think this video is appropriate:

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  • ass dan

    Razib, I’d be really interested in your thoughts on the possibility that homosexuality could be the result of the new mutations cited in the GNXP classic post. does homosexuality really *need* to have a “value” that’s conserved throughout evolution? couldn’t just be a typical wiring defect during manufacturing? sort of like when you make a car there’s a pretty good chance you’ll hook up the engine wrong on, at least, 1/1,000 cars. it’s not necessarily something wrong with the parts themselves but just a matter of probability. some cars will have tire defects, some will have engine problems, some will have brake pedal problems. in humans some will develop a brain disorder, etc. (to take the analogy further you could say that the genes or “parts” give a certain predisposition based on how well they’re “copied” by the machine at the parts plant.) get what i mean?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    ass dan, yes. i think it’s very possible. there is suggestive stuff about the brain architecture of homosexual males. i haven’t kept track of the field, and it’s politically fraught now for obvious reason (i.e., if schizophrenia and homosexual orientation are due to the constant background of mutations obviously there are some issues with analogizing them today since one is a pathology and the other has been labelled as not).

  • ass dan

    yay, i thought of something on my own! thanks, Razib

  • bioIgnoramus

    From the point of view of evolutionary biology, I suppose that anything that tends to stop you breeding successfully is a pathology? That would apply to homosexuals and to celibate heterosexuals, would it?

  • Katharine

    One should not discount sociobiological studies of homosexuality in other organisms. Bonobos? Penguins?

    (I’m inclined to think there’s some sort of ‘takes a village to raise offspring’ or social context there.)

    Sex has more purposes than reproduction. It’s also social glue.

  • Katharine

    Regarding mental illness, I am in fact increasingly finding that a frightening amount of it IS culturally determined.

    It’s part of why I don’t respect anyone’s culture anymore. Not even my own. Cultures have some good stuff, but their bad stuff needs to be made fun of.

  • http://lyingeyes.blogspot.com ziel

    “…like when you make a car there’s a pretty good chance you’ll hook up the engine wrong on, at least, 1/1,000 cars.”

    Yeah, but if you do that with 3 or 4 out of every 100 cars, you’re out of business.

  • Chris

    @ Katharine: I think “social glue” is a pretty imprecise term. I’m not knowledgeable about this, but I would assume that homosexual activity in other apes helps establish social hierarchies. Sex in humans rarely results in democraticish equality between participants. This is true across time and culture as well (viz. Catullus). It may be that homosexuality has come to be less accepted in homo sapiens specifically because of the “social glue” aspects.

    @ Razib: another way to think about mental illness beyond the “culture defines who is ill” vs. biology dichotomy is to consider whether the current biology is well adjusted to the current social and economic complexity. It may be that psychiatry identifies the ill based on culture, but that something structural and biologic is being identified nevertheless–something that is not a “defect” but simply maladapted. This would explain how diagnoses of mental illness could proliferate over a fairly short period of time and identify ill persons who would have been considered “normal” in the recent past. Maybe our collective psychological structure was been strained 50 years ago and today more people are “breaking.”

  • Melykin

    It is hard to imagine how schizophrenia could be considered normal or functional in any culture.

  • http://thelure.wordpress.com/ Chris A

    @Katherine, in addition to what the other Chris noted, I would add that the “social glue” adaptionist explanation starts to fall apart when we start discussing either homosexual attraction or exclusively homosexual behavior. Presumably, those who engage in homosexual activity in order to ease tensions with other males/females mostly mate with those of the other sex (or else what benefit would the behavior serve?). Indeed, I believe the social animals that you cited (like bonobos) fit precisely this pattern: generally speaking heterosexual but participate in homosexual activities from time to time to avoid confrontation or pleasure a more dominant fellow-traveler.

    The supposed “gay uncle” kin-selection hypothesis (that exclusive homosexuality is directly beneficial because it enables certain individuals to better ensure the well-being of their nieces and nephews at the expense of having children of their own) makes more sense, from an evolutionary perspective, but its hard to imagine the imperative is sufficient to account for the tremendous costs of not engaging in reproduction. I presume one could imagine certain scenerios which would have been more conducive to such an arrangement, perhaps in situations of extreme environmental stress where very few individuals per generation succeed and more nourishment or care provides more opportunity than simply greater numbers.

    However, I personally would not discount the importance of either pleiotropic or carrier benefits, which could help sustain a gene in a gene pool even when one of the phenotypes it manifests is under heavy negative selection. For example, a recent Italian study suggested that the maternal families of gay men tended to be significantly more fertile than the population at large, and I suspect future research along these lines will lend support for a more indirect evolutionary explanation for homosexuality.

  • Lars Winstrom

    a cure for Homosexuality from both the liberal religious traditions and the that of Psychology. Allow me to state at the outset that I may indeed have found a real and workable cure. I choose to put this idea into the world not because I am greatly enamored of it but because I hope that if it is right, I may help to shape the message that such a cure sends. For too long the religious right has dominated any theological thought about a cure. This must change. What would happen if tomorrow a real cure was made by a group in the religious rights pocket such as NARTH? Imagine the fulcrum they would hold over what such a cure meant? I can here Jerry Falwell now.

    The liberal theologian might say that a cure is not needed, that the belief that homosexuality is wrong is itself incorrect and based off of bad theology and even worse definitions incorrectly added to the Bible. I would agree, see http://www.gaychristian101.com/Homosexual-Eunuchs.html or http://www.gaychristian101.com/Define-Arsenokoites.html. However, I state that this leaves gay males at a disadvantage. They make up roughly 7 percent of the population and can only have the hope of a monagamous relationship with that same 7 percent. Heterosexaul males make up roughly 41 percent of the population but have a pool of roughly 48 percent of the worlds population from which to choose a mate, heterosexual females. The remaining 4 percent of the popualtion being lesbians. My point is this, even a Fully liberal theologian sees the poverty of choices available. Not wrongness of choice, because as I said before this is biological orientation, not personality of the person chosen nor the peronality of the chooser.

    I put fourth a cure in the hopes of changing the theoligical, social, and even biological course of current research. In the past, the church and psychologists only thought about taking away the “unwanted” behavior. I propose increasing and using the current behavior. As you read I abjour you to remember Paul’s famous quote,
    ‘For in the Kingdom of Heaven their shall be neither male nor female”

    So that others will not acuse me of puting the cart before the horse, I will start with a cure. Swedish researchers reported finding important differences in how the brains of straight men and gay men responded to two compounds suspected of being pheromones – those scent-related chemicals that are key to sexual arousal in animals. The first compound came from women’s urine Androstenol ( (1,3,5(10),16-estratetraen-3-ol), the second from male sweat. Brain scans showed that when straight men smelled the female urine compound, their hypothalamus lit up. That didn’t happen with gay men. Instead, their hypothalamus lit up when they smelled the male-sweat compound Androstenone (5 ALPHA ANDROST-16-EN-3 ONE and (4,16-
    androstadien-3-one), which was the same way straight women had responded. This research once again connecting the hypothalamus to sexual orientation.

    Now that we know atleast some of the pheromones the body of male homosexuals desire, we know that any”cure” should probably include the male pheromone while blocking the female one. We know from a study with bed bugs that such an effect is possible. Insects communicate through the use of pheromones. Some tell insects ‘there’s an AWESOME breeding ground/food over here, guys’ and others tell members of the same species ‘I’m ready to get laid’. However, another class of pheromones appropriately named ‘alarm pheromones‘ tell other members of the same species ‘We’ve got to fucking leave. NOW!’ You’d be amazed how many insects communicate with one another. Cockroaches do it. Bees do it. Lightening bugs do it, too. Well, bed bugs release alarm pheromones just like other insects.

    A lot of pheromones revolve around sex…but here’s the interesting thing: bed bugs don’t have sex pheromones. Instead, male bed bugs run up to any other individual which has recently fed and stab them with their penis. They really can’t tell the boys from the girls and will hook up with just about everyone which looks to be well fed. However, they tend to back off males after a few seconds.

    There’s been an increased interest in bed bug biology lately because of their recent insurgence back into our dwellings. They’re a nuisance, so some of this is to look for new ways to control them. Evolutionary biologists are looking at them as model organisms to study sexual conflict. Everybody’s interested in them for various reasons.

    Camilla Ryne wanted to figure out how male bed bugs sorted the boys from the girls. We’ve known about alarm pheromones for awhile, and that they cause these guys to scatter. When the boys mount the boys, they release these pheromones…but when the boys mount the girls this isn’t released. Could be correlation…could be causation. Time to experiment.

    As mentioned earlier, for this to work one male (the pitcher) needs to be starved and the other male (the catcher) needs to be fed. So this is exactly what she did…any of the ‘victims’ male or female were fed right before this happened and a starved male was introduced to the enclosure. To prevent the release of the alarm pheromone, she blocked the glands with nail polish. To simulate the pheromone, she applied bed-bug extract to females which were being mounted and properly controlled for the effects of the solvent.

    She found that males who had their alarm pheromone glands disabled were more susceptible to being stabbed by other males. Her control groups had about 2 instances of male-male pairing during the experiment, but the groups which had their glands disabled routinely had 3-5 pairings as well as longer pairing times in the groups with blocked glands.

    In the groups with the blocked glands…there was also sperm transfer. They actually ejaculated into the hemocoel as if this were a female and not a male. This wasn’t observed in the male-male control pairings. For all intents and purposes, they were completely unable to tell they were having sex with a male.

    Interestingly, the female-male interactions were similar to the male-male interactions. When the alarm pheromone was applied to the female, the time that it took the male to…*ahem* desert his post…was about the same as it took for a homosexual pairing to end. A little longer, but not statistically significant.

    So far our cure looks pretty easy. Add male pheromones. Find a chemical that blocks female pheromones without blocking the nasal neurons ability to accept and use the male pheromones.

    Now add a few known factors for what makes for strongest biological bond pairing. A company called gene partner does just this. They look at major histamine compatability to find ones perfect match. The GenePartner project was inspired by a famous study performed by Prof. Dr. Wedekind at the University of Bern in Switzerland. In this study, Prof. Dr. Wedekind recruited female volunteers to smell T-shirts worn by men for three consecutive days and rate them for attractiveness. He then analyzed the particular part of DNA that codes for HLA (human leukocyte antigen) molecules and found that women preferred T-shirts from men whose HLA molecules were most different from their own. Sensing and classifying the HLA genes is something our bodies do automatically and subconsciously.

    HLA molecules play a central role in controlling the activation of immunological effectors during an immune response and are therefore essential for immune resistance. A greater variety in HLA genes offers a greater variety in possible immune responses. In terms of evolution, this makes perfect sense: children of couples with a higher variety in their HLA genes (and hence, immune responses) will have better protection from a greater variety of diseases. Simply put, this means that their body has more weapons to use in its defence against a disease. An important additional effect is that comparing HLA genes can help identify kinship and prevent potential inbreeding.

    In 2003, the GenePartner team decided to take this discovery one step further and see if there are specific patterns of HLA genes that “attract” each other more. In collaboration with the Swiss Institute for Behavioural Genetics, they tested a large number of individuals (both romantically involved couples and persons not in a relationship) for their HLA genes. The results were astounding and led to the development of a formula that combines the diversity factor studied by Prof. Dr. Wedekind, together with several other evolutionary factors researched and developed by the Swiss Institute for Behavioral Genetics.

    The GenePartner formula measures the genetic compatibility between two individuals and makes an accurate prediction of the strength of their basis for a long-lasting and fulfilling romantic relationship.

    Genetic compatibility

    High diversity in specific immune system components ensures greater resistance against a variety of diseases. Our bodies automatically sense how diverse the immune systems of people around us are, and we subconsciously classify them depending on how genetically compatible they are to our own.

    With genetically highly compatible people we feel that rare sensation of perfect chemistry. This is the body’s receptive and welcoming response when immune systems harmonise and fit together.

    The effects of genetic compatibility

    Genetic compatibility results in an increased likelihood of forming an enduring and successful relationship. Research has also shown that the sex lives of genetically compatible partners are more satisfying than average.

    Now our cure is getting more complicated. Add male pheromones. Make a perfume of the MALE mate with whom we would have genetic compatability. Find a chemical that blocks female pheromones without blocking the nasal neurons ability to accept and use the male pheromones or the gentically compatible partners natural aroma.

    Finally a simple piece. Mix the whole thing into a substrate that might be used nasally. Vaseline comes to mind but I am quite certain better substrates could be found. Ideally, the substrate would last 24 hours and increase absorption when the bodyheated up, ie when having sex. Such technology is already available in many deodorants.

    Putting it all together, Add male pheromones. Make a perfume of the MALE mate with whom we would have genetic compatability. Find a chemical that blocks female pheromones without blocking the nasal neurons ability to accept and use the male pheromones or the gentically compatible male partners natural aroma. Mix the whole thing into a substrate that might be used nasally. Ideally one that would last 24 hours and increase absorption when the bodyheated up, ie when having sex.

    The cure for Homosexuality would not be heterosexuality, but a prosthesis leading to all people smelling of the perfect love match. Over time imprinting would likely take place. Not just male humans but all humans would be the beloved. Not Heterosexuality but real choice, bisexuality.

  • miko

    LOL. Lars fuckin’ Winstrom.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com


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