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Friday, October 26, 2007

First the Good News…

posted by on October 26 at 8:00 AM

By flipping a genetic switch in one species of worms, researchers in Utah—yes, Utah—add to the growing pile of evidence that sexual orientation is genetic, not a choice.

The researchers isolated the nerve cells responsible for sexual attraction in nematode worms, then “flipped” a genetic switch in the brains of female worms so they became attracted to other females.

“They look like girls, but act and think like boys,” said Jamie White, a postdoctoral fellow at the U. and lead author of the study, which will be published in the November issue of Current Biology.

Now the bad news…

By flipping a genetic switch in one species of worms, researchers in Utah—yes, Utah—add to the growing pile of evidence that sexual orientation is genetic. If homosexuality can be switched on in worms, anti-gay bigots will wanna find a way to switch it off in humans—even if that means acknowledging, finally, that homosexuality is not a choice. One Southern Baptist minister has already made noises about accepting a biological basis for homosexuality if that’s the only way the can stamp us out:

A prominent Southern Baptist said he would support medical treatment, if it were available, to change the sexual orientation of a fetus inside its mother’s womb from homosexual to heterosexual.

The idea of a hormonal patch for pregnant women was discussed by R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, on his blog,, on March 2.

“If a biological basis is found, and if a prenatal test is then developed, and if a successful treatment to reverse the sexual orientation to heterosexual is ever developed, we would support its use as we should unapologetically support the use of any appropriate means to avoid sexual temptation and the inevitable effects of sin,” Mohler wrote.

Never mind that a biological basis for homosexuality demonstrates that gays are part of “God’s perfect creation,” to borrow a phrase. Religious conservatives generally oppose designer babies and playing God aren’t cool—unless you’re designing straight babies and religious conservatives are the ones playing God.

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And who says that the convservatives in America share nothing with the Nazi's?

I am sure they will be able to
"turn off" dark skin as well......

Posted by Just Me | October 26, 2007 8:10 AM

One silver lining to this particular cloud is that "switching" genes off or on in an embryo is muuuuuch tougher than getting an abortion to simply eliminate the child entirely. And as grotesquely homophobic and scientifically illiterate as those pig-fuckers are, I still can't see them supporting *abortion.* It'll be a very long time until we can nullify a few selected genes in a human embryo without creating a bunch of kids with claws and flippers. And it'll be expensive as hell. So that gives us a little time.

Aside from the delay, there's one other advantage: with abortions, any 'gay' genes are removed from the genetic pool. With 'deactivated' genes, they stay in the game - waiting to queenify embryos once again in future generations, should we ever grow up enough to stop fucking around with this stuff.

Posted by Moltarr | October 26, 2007 8:14 AM

Oh boy, eugenics programs.

Posted by Greg | October 26, 2007 8:14 AM

The more I read, the more I'm convinced, simply conVINCED, that the single-minded focus on homo-hating will be the undoing of religious influence in this country.

Studies have already started showing that younger folks are turned off by this kind of insanity. And that's what it is. It's insane.

Posted by Michigan Matt | October 26, 2007 8:18 AM

One of my favorite screaming head shows I listen to is "The McLaughlin Group". John M. predicted about a year ago that the 21st century will be a constant fight between religon and science. He predicted science will win and religon will be relegated to being insignificant in anyone's life.

Posted by Just Me | October 26, 2007 8:26 AM

If they manage to find a way to turn fetuses hetero, then it stands to reason that they could just as easily turn them gay. These "Cristians" are on a slippery slope with how they like to play god.

Of course, for any of this to work, they have to acknowledge science in the first place. Just like the bible, they'll accept bits and pieces so long as they can manipulate it to fit their agenda.

I really hope Michigan Matt is right.

Posted by T | October 26, 2007 8:27 AM

I have never understood the religious assholes argument. If being gay was a choice, why couldn't we still be protected from discrimination? Last time I checked, a person's religion was a choice, at least once they get out of their parents' house.

Posted by angel | October 26, 2007 8:29 AM

So, just to play the Devil's Advocate here -- Dan, why shouldn't we genetically alter people to be straight? If it works, what's the problem? The only issue I see mentioned in this post is that it's against God, and we all know how you feel about that sort of thing. I'm sure you have a better reason. What is it?

Posted by Judah | October 26, 2007 8:29 AM

@ Judah, why not make a fetus blonde and blue eyed, or male or female? Once we start down the road of picking the features we want on our children like we are ordering a new BMW we are in Brave New World territory.

I could not careless if it is against god but it is a creepy manipulation of the basics of nature. And humanity has done enought manipulation of nature with some dire results.

Posted by Duh.... | October 26, 2007 8:35 AM

Yes, thankfully this science will take a very long time to mature (to about the same time we start pulling out of Iraq :-)).

@5: But scientific advancement doesn't negate religion because people use religion for spiritual comfort. Spirituality is great; organized religion is just its antiquated delivery mechanism.

Posted by raindrop | October 26, 2007 8:35 AM

I perused the comments in the Trib linked to this article and this one stood out:

"Could evidence of a physical link lead to a cure for homosexuality?"

Must have been posted by some Sweet Mormon Boy looking for a way out. Oh, brother.

Posted by QuimbyMcF | October 26, 2007 8:36 AM

I'm sure I'm not the only one to have seen this coming. The whole "is homosexuality a choice, or not?" argument has always, always, always been a red herring: these people want same-sex desire to simply NOT EXIST, whatever the cause, by whatever means necessary. Because the Bible says it's wrong, it has to be eradicated (so the thinking goes). Unfortunately, even if you reject the usual (and incorrect) interpretation of the Sodom and Gomorrah story, there's no getting around the comments made by the Apostle Paul (which are pretty vicious and unambiguous), at least if you're a fundamentalist.

Posted by P. | October 26, 2007 8:40 AM

Where's the vitamins you take to make sure your kid comes out of there a mo?

Posted by Gattica Anyone? | October 26, 2007 8:40 AM

Whatever, I've already seen this movie. The government carts out its miracle cure, it divides the gay community, then the gays reroute the Golden Gate Bridge and storm Alcatraz.

I ain't scared.

Posted by Rottin' in Denmark | October 26, 2007 8:44 AM


We already do several of the things you describe. Families with the money and the inclination use medical techniques to select male or female sperm. Parents over the age of 35 use a battery of prenatal tests to determine if their child has Downs or other chromosomal abnormalities and, if it does, they generally terminate. And, of course, a certain number of babies are born every year with two sets of sex organs, tails, or webbed feet and toes -- and doctors intervene to "normalize" all those children pretty much as a matter of course.

Some of humanity's manipulation of nature has had dire results. The vast majority of it has had nothing but positive results for all of us: think agriculture.


Posted by Judah | October 26, 2007 8:44 AM

Well, Judah, you raise some interesting points. I don't think Dan was objecting to the practice of gene therapy for embryos per se, but rather expressing disgust at the transparent hypocrisy of the religious right: one minute a pregnancy is a sacred kernel of life that must not be violated, the next it's a crock pot that we should feel free to dump hormones into if we don't like the stew. Clearly they're willing to chuck their principles aside if it'll get rid of a few more homos.

As far as arguments pro or con, it's not gonna go anywhere productive. Certainly, with genetic manipulation the comparison to genocide doesn't exactly mesh. No one is being killed or tortured - just changed. So all the inevitable comparisons to Nazi death camps go out the window.

I would venture to say that most people would be in favor of eliminating terrible genetic diseases like cystic fibrosis, less would be in favor of genetic enhancements to otherwise healthy embryos (such as increasing intelligence, a smoking hot ass, etc.), and the fewest would be for eliminating cosmetic or ethically neutral differences, like skin color.

The problem is that people view "gayness" as any of the above, depending on who you ask: a horrible disease, a slightly less-desirable condition, or irrelevant. Since it's based on subjective opinions on whether or not gayness is good or bad, we'll just keep coming back to square one over and over.

Posted by Moltarr | October 26, 2007 8:44 AM

Michigan Matt -- I think there is definitely hope amongst the younger folks, and maybe even with the "older folks".

I was just reading an article that surveyed the beliefs (political and otherwise) of the Class of 1957 at Notre Dame. So, 72 year old, white Catholics. 40% of them were for homosexual civil unions. Now, that may not sound like alot, but I thought it was pretty good for a group of old, white, Catholic men. More of them supported civil unions than supported abortion rights (26%), physcian assisted suicide (27%), or stem cell research (33%).

I am hopeful that eventually, the attitudes of the younger will spread to the older. Though, we may need a few more Falwells to die out in the meantime.

Posted by Julie | October 26, 2007 8:54 AM


If Dan's main point with this actually is, "Christians are hypocrites," that's fine. I guess I'm just not terribly impressed by that criticism. Everyone's a hypocrite. Some of us are public hypocrites; Dan certainly is. ECB certainly is. Charles -- my god, don't get me started. I suspect they all know this but, like Christians, admit nothing when confronted.

And just as an aside, I think people would actually be most in favor of cosmetic alterations. Cosmetic differences are the ones people care about most, and they're the ones that are easiest to justify.

Posted by Judah | October 26, 2007 8:58 AM

A lot of high-profile research has been on genes lately (especially on finding "the ____ gene"), but what really matters is how genes affect biology. For example, there might be a cleft lip gene, but if you surgically fix the cleft lip, what effect does that gene really have?

We've known for a while that we can create gay or straight animals in a lab, regardless of what the animal's genes are. If you shoot testosterone into a female baby rat during a "critical period" of brain development, the rat will be gay. It will hump other female rats and its body language will actually cause other female rats to present themselves sexually. If you remove a male baby rat's testicles (and thus, testosterone) during the same period, it will become gay and present itself sexually to other males, regardless of any testosterone produced later on. There's a picture of one of these gay female rats humping a gay male rat -- I wish I could find it on google.

Genes are of course somewhat responsible, but only about 50% of gay people with identical twins have a gay twin. No "homosexual cure" can rely on genes alone. If you're worried about a gay cure, look out for people messing with a baby's biochemicals or brains during development.

Posted by jamier | October 26, 2007 9:00 AM

Perhaps there's a bigot gene that can be tampered with?

Posted by raindrop | October 26, 2007 9:01 AM


Yeah, all that great agriculture stuff! Hmmm genetically modified corn is some good eating and the hormones in Milk? YUMMY!!!! Oh and the anit-biotics in our meat supply? Super good for you!!

We managed to fuck up our food with genetics, I am sure we will do just fine with humans......

Posted by Just Me | October 26, 2007 9:02 AM

Reasons why it is unlikely ever to be a real issue:

- The people most concerned about 'teh gays' are extreme fundamentalists who are unlikely to believe it is not a choice so wouldn't seek the test or treatment, and certainly wouldn't abort if somehow they were convinced their unborn child was gay.

- These same folks are usually not well off and would be unlikely to be able to afford an expensive line of treatment. And I don't see Dobson's group coughing up their yearly multi-billion dollar income to assist, nor do I see welfare doing so.

- Just how many people would be willing to allow doctors to mess with their unborn childs brain in such a manner? In order for it to even be an option it will need decades of testing and advancment - who's going to allow their baby to be the guinea pig? No one, that's who. Without test subjects and a profit motive this is going nowhere fast.

- But most relevant, IMO, is that when a couple is expecting a baby they are expecting just that - a baby. The image and expectation of a little squirming bubdle of joy is going to be a hard image to overlay an adult homosexual persona over. People just won't picture their baby that far ahead during pregnancy. I believe the motivation to do a test for 'teh gay' is going to be severly lacking.

Posted by the other John | October 26, 2007 9:04 AM

When a friend of mine was pregnant the second time and found out she was having another boy, she sighed and said, "dear god, I hope he's gay. I want someone to bake and go to musicals with." I think she was only partially kidding.

Posted by Julie | October 26, 2007 9:14 AM

Come to think of it, every Gene I've known turned out to be gay. Not to mention the gaijin. Gay is here to stay as much as left-handedness and royal blood and elevated IQs. It's futile to tinker.

First cure cancer and fibromyalgia and amytrophic lateral sclerosis - then worry about minor things like same-sex ass-banditry. I assure you, turning folks straight is not the path to a Nobel. Maybe a Schrammie...

Posted by RHETT ORACLE | October 26, 2007 9:17 AM

Never discount the vanity of the parent.

It'll cut both ways: some people will refuse to face the fact that they could have passed on "gay genes" (eww, gross!) to their child, and will only realize this when Jimmy comes hurtling out of the closet 17 years later.

And other people will treat their kids like customized Coup de Villes if they get the chance: brains, brawn, straight, naturally curly hair, and an aptitude for piety. Stay tuned! It's a-coming.

Posted by Moltarr | October 26, 2007 9:19 AM

Although some might say that piety and brains can't both fit on the same chromosome....

Posted by Moltarr | October 26, 2007 9:22 AM

christians gettin' gattacca on fetuses just to take away the gay? they sound more and more ridiculous by the hour.

okay, so they've found a single gene in worms - WORMS. now "all they have to do" is locate the gene[s] in humans, then figure out how the fuck to switch it off in utero w/o creating babies with claws and gills, all the while never experimenting on any actual human beings [which is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay unethical by even the most lax standards] - i mean really, we're talking decades here. DECADES. by then people won't care anymore.

this will be their undoing, not ours.

Posted by brandon | October 26, 2007 9:23 AM

I'm still trying to understand why sexual orientation has to be either genetic or a "choice" exclusively. Sexual orientation is, of course, never a choice, but I've seen evidence to indicate that there is both a genetic and an environmental component in the determination of sexual orientation. As an example...

Religious extremists may wish to imply that any trait which isn't absolutely proven to be based in the genes as a "choice". The rest of us will cheerfully ignore them, or point out their falsities as necessary.

Posted by Resident Weevil | October 26, 2007 9:29 AM

It'll probably backfire and we'll create giant salamander-babies with huge cocks who like to fuck men over and over.

Posted by Moltarr | October 26, 2007 9:29 AM

I too had a coworker who wanted a gay baby because she wanted someone to 'bake with and shop with'. Sigh.

Interestingly enough, its ok to temper with someones sexuality if they are gay, but why aren't these Christians taking castration drugs?

It would help them avoid sins of the flesh and sex wouldn't be desired.

Posted by SomeGuy | October 26, 2007 9:39 AM

Isn't that the plot of the last X-Men movie?

Posted by Carollani | October 26, 2007 9:44 AM

One aspect of this that I'm surprised nobody has touched on is that Fundies suddenly seem to be accepting the fact that genetic manipulations performed on species very low on the evolutionary chain can have similar effects on human beings, implying there is a direct genetic link between the two.

Which should definitely put that whole Evolution debate in a different light in their mind, one would think.

So, can we now expect Fundies to acknowlege that there IS in fact an evolutionary link between species? Or will they going to continue to cling to the dodge that "God can do whatever he wants"? (It's a rhetorical question of course.)

Nevertheless, I always find this attitude hilarious since that line of reasoning taken to its logical conclusion must mean God WANTS people to be gay, otherwise he wouldn't have made them that way in the first place, right?

Posted by COMTE | October 26, 2007 9:46 AM

Dan, would you rather be gay than straight? What if the world was completely gay-friendly?

Posted by honestly curious | October 26, 2007 9:59 AM

Once again, this is why the gay community shouldn't make biology the sole basis of their claims against the moral bigotry of the religious right. It shouldn't matter if homosexuality is a gene or a choice--the fundies are wrong either way. Genes, as we know, don't "determine" anything, they just predispose us one way or the other. So even if certain zealots accept the biological explanation, they will, obviously, then argue for a biological "cure." So does that mean no one would ever have gay sex again? No! There is always an element of choice in any sexual behavior, and believe me, some will make that choice even if they're predisposed to heterosexuality (many a "straight" Roman Senator or sea captain certainly has). What needs to be argued is that choosing a gay relationship (for whatever reason) is OKAY. That takes the wind out of the biology vs. lifestyle debate and gets us back to something productive, like how adult sexual behavior isn't the business of government or churches.

If you read on, crazy Christian says this:

"we should unapologetically support the use of any appropriate means to avoid sexual temptation and the inevitable effects of sin,"

By this logic, he would erase ALL sexual temptation, including, we assume, those hetero kinds that inevitably lead to "sin": fornication, adultery, non-procreative sex, masturbation, etc. The enemy here is sexuality of ANY kind, so don't believe that they'll stop at turning off the homo gene. We should be fighting for sexual freedom, not for biological versus psychological "explanations"!

Posted by jack | October 26, 2007 10:01 AM

Naaah, COMTE, they have (dumb) answers for that one.

1) The reason that primitive animals and humans share some very similar metabolic processes isn't because they're related to each other on the evolutionary pathway. It's because God simply chose to use the same good components in different creations, just as a carpenter might use the same nails to build a dog house and or a mansion.

2) The reason humans have genetic flaws (like sickle cell anemia, "gay" genes, etc etc.) is because when Adam and Eve ate that fucking apple all of creation fell with them, blah blah, humans then became mortal with various imperfections, blah blah blah, puke, duh....

You'll never convince 'em with evidence or facts or reason. They just won't have it.

Posted by Moltarr | October 26, 2007 10:02 AM


A baby with claws and gills would be AWESOME!

Posted by Clint | October 26, 2007 10:05 AM

As is so often the case, the science here is whack. Except for some simple physical characteristics, there are very few genes that directly cause or prevent something in that lovely off-on switch way. Most genes in our genome act on other genes in a cascade fashion, and this is why despite decades of research, there have been very few cures for anything found in genetic research. The human genome is just too fucking complicated.

And I'd count on the anti-science views of the people who most hate gays to prevent them from doing anything to their precious fetuses. They'll just wait for Jeebus to cure them.

Posted by Bill | October 26, 2007 11:16 AM

@37 Exactly. Almost no single genes are responsible for even simple traits. There are 18 genes that manage skin color along, and that's for a relatively simple trait, and even that doesn't take into account the emerging science of how genes formerly thought of as "junk" actually turn genes on and off. I can't imagine how something as incredibly complex as human sexuality could be successfully altered at a genetic level.

Posted by Gitai | October 26, 2007 11:36 AM

What everyone seems to forget is that there is an evolutionary reason for homosexuality. It is present in many vertebrate species - not just in humans, who have "free will" and the capacity for choice - and has been present for eons.

The prejudices against homosexuality among a small tribe of Semetic people were codified in religious law. The religious arguments against homosexuality have one basis - "the Bible says so". Well, the Bible says a lot of things, including prohibitions on eating pork and shellfish, wearing the color red, wearing garments made from mixed fibers, how to sell one's daughter into slavery, etc.

The "conservative" objections to homosexuality aren't based in science or even in sociology. They are part and parcel of the hate-based politics of the political right. Asserting control over the private lives of individuals is the authoritarian way, and that is what the right is truly after. What the theocrats, neocons and traditionalists want is nothing less than the destruction of our liberal, secular democratic republic and the abandonment of the Enlightenment-based values upon which our nation was founded. Homosexuality is just the latest casualty of their neverending war against civilization.

Posted by Jonathon | October 26, 2007 11:53 AM

The Bat Boy of tabloid fame was the first attempt at this sort of genetic manipulation. He was intended as a halloween gift. Happy Bat Boy anniversary everyone.

Posted by Sargon Bighorn | October 26, 2007 12:02 PM

I agree with 37 and 38. Even if you could get a fraction of the way there, a lot of parents aren't going to want you messing around in there at that complex a level. Besides, I think they're more likely to find a genetic predisposition to homosexuality than a "gay gene". Reductionist principles don't work on something as complex as sexuality.

On a slightly altered note, it actually seems to me like what these scientists are doing is more basic than "gay" to "straight". They're flipping a genetic switch that makes girl worms act like boy worms, not one that just makes the girl worms want to procreate with other girl worms. Part of acting like boy worms means going after girl worms. It doesn't matter to them, because they think they're boy worms. Seems like they're creating worm transsexuals, not gay worms.

Even if it can be done, they've got a long, long way to go.

Posted by Rei | October 26, 2007 12:15 PM

I was always ok with the idea of homosexuality of being a choice, even if I didn't think it was true and I didn't like how the right seized upon it for their purposes. I was ok because a lot of our choices are protected -- such as religion.

Posted by Gloria | October 26, 2007 12:16 PM

I was just thinking along those lines yesterday Michigan Matt (#4). I completely agree with you and think that this really will be the impetus for people to no longer tolerate intolerance. Ha ha! But seriously, yeah.

Posted by subwlf | October 26, 2007 12:34 PM

I should point out all it changed is how they interpret pheremones (smell) in attraction.

There isn't a specific gay gene per se - more like a cluster of hot spots on multiple chromosomes.


Posted by Will in Seattle | October 26, 2007 12:37 PM

and, based on what has been happening in China and India, it is highly likely that, if there were a gay gene, most parents would pay to have it switched to a heterosexual gene.

I'd like to pretend humans don't do things like that, but look at the gender ratios in those countries, if you don't believe how real the threat of such actions is.

Don't believe what they say - believe what they do.

Posted by Will in Seattle | October 26, 2007 12:41 PM

Wouldn't you think if someone had webbed feet they would be an excellent swimmer?

Posted by Mike in MO | October 26, 2007 1:32 PM

There's a deleted scene in Gattaca (available on the DVD) where when the parents are designing their child, the geneticist addresses that he will make it straight.

Posted by Lake | October 26, 2007 3:16 PM

Interestingly, a lot of neocons are actually pretty socially liberal... they tend to be liberals who were, as the phrase goes, "mugged by reality". They gave up liberal multilateralism and embraced a radical vision to spread democracy unilaterally, promptly proceeding to invade Iraq... the morons.

With regards to this study, how does it fit with the recent study that men with older brothers are more likely to be gay?

Lastly, /please/ don't lump all Christians into the same theological boat. Nonfundamentalist thought on homosexuality is a lot more complicated than these idiot preachers make it out to be. And please don't conflate the theocrats with real conservatives: they are right-wing radicals, and what they advocate is anathema to traditional conservatism.

Posted by Richard | October 27, 2007 2:50 AM

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