A fundamentalist dilemma – gay and lesbian mice

How will the homophobes greet this latest article in Nature describing a pheromone “switch” in mice that when inactivated – even in adult mice – appears to change their sexual orientation?

Briefly let’s go over what the researchers found.

Mice that lacked a gene named Trpc, responsible for encoding an ion channel in the vomeronasal organ, were previously discovered to have indiscriminant mating patterns among males. In other words, the boys would try to mount anything that moved, male or female. It was thought that mice, which don’t exactly look at girly mags, can probably only distinguish between boys and girls by smell – so damage in this sense led to the inability to distinguish between male and female. The resulting mice weren’t gay, they were just confused.

Now, this study shows that the Trpc gene has a similar effect in females, except that the girl mice start acting like males rather than females – mounting and trying to hump everything in sight. This suggests that not only is the gene needed for the pheromones that distinguish between boy and girl mice but that neuronal basis for male sexual behavior exists in female mice and is somehow normally suppressed. Further, if the vomeronasal organ is disabled in an adult mouse, the female-humping-anything-that-moves phenotype emerges – just like in the trpc knockout mice. This suggests that this is not a developmental process being altered. Instead, the female mice must have the basic circuitry of male sexual behavior intact, and for some reason screwing with pheromone signaling unmasks this natural pathway.

The question is, as a anti-gay homophobic crank, what can you do to distort the science to force it to conform to your world view that homosexuality is a choice of evil hellbound miscreants?

This is a tough problem because this study is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it suggests that sexual behaviors aren’t necessarily determined developmentally, and that animals have the potential for male or female sexual behaviors whatever their sex. This has the potential to be exploited by the careful quote-miner to suggest that homosexuals have a choice – homosexual behavior is not ingrained and determined by the time you are born – both male and female sexual behaviors are present in all.

On the other hand, it still establishes a biological basis for sexual preference and again shows a potential genetic basis for a sexual behavior.

Very problematic. How ever shall this result be politicized to justify the bigotry of the homophobic mouth breathers?

Whatever they decide though, and don’t doubt that someone will try to make hay out of such an interesting result, it will be irrelevant. In humans the vomeronasal organ is likely vestigial and probably has no role in sexuality, pheromone detection, or anything (that’s a heckuva design job there). Certainly an interesting result, and who knows, maybe humans also have both male and female sexual circuitry present with different mechanisms controlling the switch. But it certainly isn’t controlled by pheromones, and likely, we have a sufficiently different system in place that assumptions about human sexuality are premature.