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4 posts categorized "Biology"

September 13, 2008

Sex, Research Studies & Reproduction

Do we live in the age of paranoia? Is paranoia fueled by studies and surveys? This was today's thought after reading an article about a Swiss study linking bi-polar disorder with older parents. It's the kind of thing that will probably influence partner choice for a small proportion of people, but is the Swiss study factoring everything? Are scientists absolutely certain that bi-polar has a genetic origin? Can it have something to do with maternal nutrition during pregnancy, or neonatal nutrition and so on? Human beings have to endure so many external variables from the moment they enter the world.

Another doctor (from New York) added her view toward the end of the NY Times article:

“The vast majority of children of any fathers will not get bipolar illness. At the level of the whole population, it may be important, but for the individual father it’s a small risk.”

Thus, if the vast majority won't get bipolar disorder, does that mean that the study is incomplete in some way?

Society may have come so far since the Industrial Revolution; science has gone from strength to strength, but it seems that humans still can't find the answer to many questions relating to physical and mental health. So what is to be done with such studies? Do people take them seriously, with a grain of salt, or include such information in their repositories, even if the information has a high chance of being irrelevant to them? How influential are these surveys where relationships and parenting are concerned?

August 22, 2008

The Urban Primate

Gana Our closest relatives may not be able to articulate their emotions in the way we (homo sapiens) can, and I suppose this minor difference, along with the 1-5% DNA difference (depending on the primate: but larger primates, or great apes, have more DNA similarities with us) and hirsuteness, is what tends to  hold I.D. believers (bible thumpers) together or convince them that the earth is only four thousands years old - something that has been proven to be incorrect countless times.

The idea of being related to primates may be viewed as an insult to a portion of society. The most common question posed by anti-evolutionists is the age old question of how. People tend to be dismissive of the reality: the homo genus has occupied the earth for a small percentage of time, and primates go back 85 million years. It's quite ironic to think that the Homo genus has caused more destruction on this earth than its ancestor (the primate). Sure, humans have created sustainable technologies and the human lifespan has been extended due to scientific development, but in the course of creating innovative products (to ease the increasing demands of our modern lifestyle), we have utilized fossil fuels - many oil fields have dried up in the last two centuries. Thus the common question bible thumpers do ask is the following: if we have evolved from primates than why have primates remained the way they are? And it's a fair question, but it's not a five minute answer. The answer would incorporate biology (including Darwinian theory), but there are many examples (in nature) that indicate that species can differentiate separately. They may not be mammals, but the principal can be applied to mammals.

One thing that tends to reinforce the evolutionary aspect (primaties ---> humans) is behavior. Scientists have taught larger primates (such as Koko) to use sign language, proving that large primates can - if taught - communicate with humans. From the  2002 preface of The Education of Koko:

"Koko is now 31 years old, and has developed a vocabulary of over 1000 words of American Sign Language and comprehension of over 2000 words of spoken English. Her first male companion, Michael, a silverback gorilla who passed away in the year 2000 at age 27, also developed an extensive sign language vocabulary. Koko and Michael remain to this day the only two gorillas that have acquired a human language, which allows for inter-species communication."

The expressive faces and sounds of primates can't be dismissed and neither can their body language. Every visit I make to Taronga Zoo includes two stops (each) at the gorilla, orangutan and chimpanzee enclosures. Their body language is similar, as is their social structure. In this structure, males dominate and by dominate, I don't mean that they make their female companions lick their feet and slave over them - that's a human thing - but they set the scene for mating and social behavior. I can recall one vivid day when I made it to the front of the queue at the gorilla enclosure. It wasn't easy as it is one of the most popular enclosures, but I circled the enclosure for a couple of hours until I saw a break in the crowd. After pushing my way past visitors, I finally saw what the fuss was about -two adolescent males were wreaking havoc. They ran, rolled, playfully jostled each other, and generally behaved like adolescent teens: full of beans. It was fun to watch, but what shortly followed was much more interesting on a behavioral level. The dominant male exited his nook and entered the open area. He ambled to center-stage, the spot where everyone could see him. It was as though he knew his magic or attraction. Meanwhile the two adolescent gorillas kept on, delayed in their realization that their 'superior' exited. The dominant male sat, and only had to look round, to make eye contact with the two (younger) cheeky males, for them to stop in their tracks and settle down. The dominant gorilla could have said something along the lines of, "I've arrived now, and it's time for you both to pull your socks up and behave - otherwise you'll regret it." Typically alpha male, and quite interesting to watch. The difference between humans and large primates is that the latter have a better handle on discipline and social control. A human, faced with the usual dilemma of a toddler tantrum, gazes helplessly, often plummeting into the imaginary sea of red-faced embarrassment. We're brainwashed with political correctness and schemata that govern etiquette. Primates? Not so.

Another visit to the zoo saw me follow a crowd that raced to the glass window of the chimp enclosure. I thought, 'what's going on here for them to run like they've seen a celebrity?' Sure enough, it meant that the primate was up close. People go nuts with enthusiasm when animals are awake and near. Another adolescent primate, this time a male chimp. It was uncanny how it flirted with the crowd, goading the crowd to come closer to the window, its mouth hanging open with a half smile, its eyes sparkling with happiness. We all gathered, and he made eye contact with us, satisfied that an audience gathered to see him. Then he suddenly turned round, bent forward, in a mooning gesture. Yes, primates moon people. And then, shortly after baring its butt to us, he did -what many thought disgusting - it unleashed a torrent of shit. It spurted against the glass. I thought, he shit on us. I laughed so hard, and almost peed in my pants when he subsequently rubbed his butt against the window, spreading his poop. He definitely rubbed it in, probably telling us that this was what we got in exchange for our curiosity.

It's a humbling experience. The similarities (between us and them) are profound and I believe this even more so after observing new (primate) mothers. There was a cute toddler chimp (toddler because it could jump, roll, run and wreak havoc), who had just learned to climb a tree and he (or she - I couldn't tell from the distance) delighted in swinging from a branch. It developed a finishing move: his/her arm would perfectly swipe his/her mother. Meanwhile the male (or dad) was aloof to the behavior (typical male), standing a short distance away from the mother and toddler chimp. The toddler found a new toy: his/her mum.

One swipe, and the toddler was thrilled. Their little hand made contact with the mother's head. Riveted to the spot, I watched. A moment passed, and the toddler decided to repeat the behavior with a second swipe. Contact was made between his/her hand and the mother's head. I thought that the baby/toddler was pushing it. How many times can he/she get away with slapping his/her mother from a short distance? Sure enough, the toddler took a third swipe (meanwhile the male - its dad - stood still nearby, not doing anything at all other than relax) and the mother didn't flinch. She simply slapped her toddler, until her toddler tumbled from the branch and rolled on the grass. The toddler stopped, stood and decided against returning to the tree (for the time being).

One of the more telling similarities is that which concerns motherhood and how primates react when they experience the primate equivalent of cot death. They do enter a mourning stage, many primates being unable to immediately let go of their offspring. And it is this that distinguishes primates from other taxonomic species (like fish, insects, etc) and illuminates their similarity to humans. The latest animal story from Germany indicates that this is the case, with Gana - a female gorilla - mourning over the loss of her newborn baby. Gana hasn't let go of the baby - physically. She has been holding her dead baby for four days and zoo keepers have to wait until she decides to move on.

"Gana won't let keepers at Germany's Muenster zoo near three-month-old Claudio who stopped breathing on Sunday.

The distraught mother has been staring at the corpse in shock, unable to accept her baby is dead."

It's perplexing to think that there are people out there who believe the earth is only four thousand years old, that we have absolutely no relation to primates. My question to those folk? How come we humans don't have any DNA similarities with other mammals? That's the key thing or link, the DNA, something that anti-evolutionists avoid acknowledging.

July 29, 2008

Chemical Bonding: Lust, 'Love', Oxytocin & Bonding

At college and depending on the subject, study often involves thinking in straight lines. For example, studying chemistry or biochemistry, coupled with physiology, generally teaches about biological function and the psychological element is left out of the equation. It's only when subjects like psychological biology are taken that it all comes together, but even then, the focus isn't on sexuality, it's on general function. I remember my two and a half years navigating all of the above university subjects and the subject of sexual attraction never being mentioned. Maybe it wasn't important, but I've found this article on the web that's interesting and may, just may, partially answer the age old question pertaining to the sin most women commit – falling for the wrong guy (the asshole, bastard, emotionally challenged, etc) and the answer may lie in the sex.

Being attracted to the bad boy isn't just about the sex, but the perception of danger and the 'devil may care' attitude that bad boys generate, are – somehow – added to the sexual/romantic equation. The origins to these attractions may not be chemical, and they may vary from one person to the next (have deeper origins, like male models in early childhood – the human subconscious files bundles of information), but the chemical factors after sex may explain a lot, or tend to explain why women go back for more, even though their gut tells them that they're attracted to a dud. And I think most women are aware of duds irrespective of whether they admit it or not, it's an inkling, and although I don't like to use the word 'intuition' in a new-age way, it's just a feeling that may be primal or instinct and sometimes human instinct is sidetracked by the external image or social pressure.

Continue reading "Chemical Bonding: Lust, 'Love', Oxytocin & Bonding" »

April 08, 2008

The War Against (Pre-Menstrual) Terror

I only have myself to blame. Why didn't I keep track? Why didn't my United Neuronal inspectors alert me to the fact that D day was coming, for me to note it on the calendar? I thought PMT was fun before? I didn't anticipate PMT on Zoloft. It's a real eye opener and it's different.

For starters, I don't froth at the mouth when I'm doing a Formula One speed in a kiddie zone. Yesterday,Little_miss as I was on the telephone dealing with bureaucratic insurance officers, all the tension coagulated into one elite fighting machine. Streamlined is one word I'd select, for it was like green beret ire. And no, I don't regret my little episode. I have worked alongside those who have eyed insurance job openings with lust at my current workplace, and all those who'd go on to become claim officers were the most anal retentive people I've known. So nope, no guilt there. My outburst probably livened up their sterile office existence on a Monday.

It's as though my current, Zoloft fragranced, PMT is a weapon on its own. God, I thought, how much more can medicine do? I wasn't sure whether I wanted my old PMT back!

PMT 1.0 was like "Argh!!! F#$$%g C#$nt! (froth, dribble)"
PMT 1.1 is like (insert nasal aristocratic sneer & rounded vowels) "You're an incompetent desk jockey and I'm going to stick toothpicks in your eye sockets, and when I'm done with you you're going to be crying for your mummy."

I'm like freakin' Hannibal Lecter....and what's more perverted is that I didn't much mind it. It definitely drove the dude on the other end of the phone into a mute silence that could have been considerably creepy for me, except I was in ZPMT mode and it didn't bother me none. Of course now, on day two, I feel like I'm John Hurt in the film Alien, my stomach in knots and cramps, but a bunch of chocolate and a hot cup of cocoa is gonna fix all that.

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