'Curing' gay sheep

From the Times Online in London:

Scientists are conducting experiments to change the sexuality of "gay" sheep in a programme that critics fear could pave the way for breeding out homosexuality in humans.

The technique being developed by American researchers adjusts the hormonal balance in the brains of homosexual rams so that they are more inclined to mate with ewes.

It raises the prospect that pregnant women could one day be offered a treatment to reduce or eliminate the chance that their offspring will be homosexual. Experts say that, in theory, the "straightening" procedure on humans could be as simple as a hormone supplement for mothers-to-be, worn on the skin like an anti-smoking nicotine patch.

The research, at Oregon State University in the city of Corvallis and at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, has caused an outcry. Martina Navratilova, the lesbian tennis player who won Wimbledon nine times, and scientists and gay rights campaigners in Britain have called for the project to be abandoned.

Navratilova defended the "right" of sheep to be gay. She said: "How can it be that in the year 2006 a major university would host such homophobic and cruel experiments?" She said gay men and lesbians would be "deeply offended" by the social implications of the tests.

When we discuss embryonic stem cell research, people who oppose it on ethical grounds (like me) are said by others to be 'against science'. However, in this case it seems that the gay community is anti-science regarding the ends, if not the means.

If it becomes scientifically possible to assure that your unborn child is straight instead of gay through some kind of patch or hormone treatment, is there anything wrong with that?

the "straightening"

LOL.. sorry but that caught me funny.

I'm curious... how could this be considered "breeding out" when homosexuals cannot reproduce positive homosexual offspring to begin with?

Please dont flame me

edit
But to deal w/ the real issue, messing around and "choosing" what a living being should be before its able to choose for itself... there are most definitely lines that need to be drawn.

Some societies will choose the ethical "let it be, we are not god" route. Others will choose the "We will only change the negative aspects" (the danger here is the definition of what is negative)... and still others will say "Screw that, my kid is going to play for the Bears!!!".

Stem Cells anyone? It might work! It might not! Whats good? Whats bad? Interesting world we live in...

PAR

I'm against genetic engineering on the whole. But we already opened Pandora's Box in that branch of science decades ago.

A simple genetic modification before I was born is theoretically all it would've taken to make sure I wasn't born with the genes that gave me psoriasis and the accompanying life-altering arthritis. And you know what? I'm glad that we didn't have the technology at the time to do that to me. Not only can we not know the true long-term effects of such tampering, but the real question becomes "where do we draw the line?"

If it becomes scientifically possible to assure that your unborn child is straight instead of gay through some kind of patch or hormone treatment, is there anything wrong with that?

I think the real question here is not about straight or gay, but genetic determination, the question of whether nature and environment should dictate or whether we have the right to manipulate.

Fundamentally you've asked no more question than whether people should have the chance to determine gender, eye-color, race or perhaps even whether a child will be more inclined to arts or science. You've just dipped that question into a politically charged chocolate coating.

No one can answer your question without first answering the funadmental question, and then it become a matter of parental preference if we were to allow it.

Curious how you threw the word "cure" in there just to poke the wasps nest a bit. BZZZ!

Good to see we have the opportunity to cure heterosexuality, finally, and give overpopulated countries the tools they need to dictate the needs of their society. Bzzz.

Elysium wrote:

Good to see we have the opportunity to cure heterosexuality, finally, and give overpopulated countries the tools they need to dictate the needs of their society. Bzzz.

Yea like Canada!

PAR

Elysium wrote:

Good to see we have the opportunity to cure heterosexuality, finally, and give overpopulated countries the tools they need to dictate the needs of their society. Bzzz.

If you want to stir the hornet's nest, then here's a good question: what would be better for China to use to control its population, continue the practice of enforced abortions after the first child, or perform genetic tampering to ensure X% of the population is homosexual, or genetically alter X% of the population to be sterile?

Meh, this is just like having the ability to choose your child's sex, hair color, et cetera. I don't have a problem with any of those issues, so I can't see any reason to get excited about this choice. One has to either agree or disagree with the ability to choose as a group, you can't pick and choose which ones you support without arguing against yourself.

That's exactly why I'm just against the practice on the whole, Crowley.

There are too many unknowns with the long -term ramifications genetic modification as a whole (whether it involves simple plant life up to humans) to allow it to come into wide-spread public use. But, knowing the corporitization of science, I wouldn't be surprised if and when treatments like this come on the market at a steep price.

Ely, you are reading too much into it. Homosexuality is a deviation from the norm, thus my use of the word 'cure'.

As for your (and Fars') comment about genetic determination, notice I didn't say anything about messing with the genes. I said hormone treatment. I am against genetic manipulation at our current level of knowledge.

The flip side is that if homosexuality is 'treatable' through hormones in utero, then it might not be completely biological in cause. If a byproduct of this research shows an environmental cause for homosexuality, what does that do to the political movements around gay rights?

The flip side is that if homosexuality is 'treatable' through hormones in utero, then it might not be completely biological in cause. If a byproduct of this research shows an environmental cause for homosexuality, what does that do to the political movements around gay rights?

Why would I not be able to biologically make a child homosexual, rather then hetero, through hormone treatment? Would this prove that heterosexuality were not biological? What if I could make their hair not red? What does that mean?

This rationale doesn't really flow. I can make a cripple with a hammer, but that says little other then that bones are brittle.

You know Johnny, you are opening a big can of worms with this... but I have to admit with my original response ("messing around and "choosing" what a living being should be before its able to choose for itself")and then reading what you just wrote... is homosexuality a genetic mutation/defect/mistake?

Many say they can choose... many others say that they cannot (they were "born" this way). I honestly don't know any heterosexual couple (personally or in the press) ever publicly stating that they are trying to have a gay child. Wonder if there really is proof that its a genetic "mistake"...

Interesting...

PAR

Hormone treatments are slightly different than genetic modification to me. Still concerning due to, again, the lack of real knowledge we have on the long-term effects. I also don't know enough to know much about what exactly hormone treatments do and don't do, so any comments I have to make on the practice would be couched in ignorance, unfortunately.

JohnnyMoJo wrote:

If a byproduct of this research shows an environmental cause for homosexuality, what does that do to the political movements around gay rights?

Nothing, really. I don't see how that would result in the loss of their legal definition of a protected class.

Why would I not be able to biologically make a child homosexual, rather then hetero, through hormone treatment?

No reason why you couldn't I suppose. Perhaps you would want your child to be a sharp dresser or a florist.

Nothing, really. I don't see how that would result in the loss of their legal definition of a protected class.

I don't think it would have any effect on things like equal opportunity laws, but I think it would turn the pro-gay marriage argument on its head.

Mind you, I have no real opinion about this. I thought it was an interesting story, made even more interesting by the reaction of the gay community. Are they right to be so offended?

The article does a poor job of explaining what the researchers are doing to the gay sheep. Is the horomone therapy on them a continual treatment or a one shot affair?

As for the prospect of a hormonal treatment for pregnant mothers to reduce the chance that their offspring are homosexual, that's been studied elsewhere already.

Abstract about a study on mice

These data suggest that prenatal stress decreases sexual motivation in males and leads to clear predisposition to homosexuality, although it does not produce complete inversion of sexual orientation.

It's more complex than stress levels though (at least in us):
'Nother study on humans

For males, neither between-family nor within-family analyses revealed a maternal stress effect for either sexual orientation or childhood gender nonconformity. However, mothers of effeminate children reported more stress-proneness than other mothers. Male homosexuality nevertheless was strongly familial, suggesting a reconsideration of genetic and familial environmental mechanisms.
Homosexuality is a deviation from the norm, thus my use of the word 'cure'.

My IQ and borderline Asperger's symptoms are significant deviations from the norm. Is there a cure for me? Something that will make me less capable and less perfectionist? I find it hard to believe you are using the term "deviation" in a neutral way that you'd apply to anyone who is not within say two standard deviations of the norm.

Unless of course you are actually reasoning to fit your belief that the Bible is correct in this regard. That would be a natural reaction for a believer, but it would not be a scientific judgement.

The flip side is that if homosexuality is 'treatable' through hormones in utero, then it might not be completely biological in cause. If a byproduct of this research shows an environmental cause for homosexuality, what does that do to the political movements around gay rights?

Beg pardon? If it's adjustable with hormones, then it has a larger biological component than previously thought. This could be the death knell for the view that it's a choice that can be cured. Homophobes would have to take the position that God intended for people to be gay, just like he intended them to get diabetes, but both can be managed with hormone changes. I wonder, would we give rights to homosexuals, in that case, or take them away from diabetics?

Bear in mind that some people who are hetero also choose to engage in homosexual behavior because they enjoy it. Clearly, many heteros don't enjoy it, but it's equally clear that the issue is not binary. A biological explanation is strengthened by the idea that there is a gradient from pure hetero to mixed to pure homo. The idea that homosexuality is a psychological condition is not strengthened by this research.

Mind you, I have no real opinion about this. I thought it was an interesting story, made even more interesting by the reaction of the gay community. Are they right to be so offended?

Depends on your relation to the issue. What if the guy in Canada who is putting people in magnetic helmets and inducing religious experiences discovers a chemical that will completely inhibit the feeling of religious awe, even when the appropriate parts of the brain are stimulated? Would you feel threatened by such a treatment?

Who can say for sure whether those sheep were actually "cured"? The article cites that they were more likely to mate with ewes. But it may merely mean that became more adapted at getting it on with the opposite sex, while remaining fully gay in their hearts.

This is a point of interest for me, because the psychological modifications possible with drugs and behavioral modifications argue against the idea of the soul being separate from the body. If someone was gay in their immortal soul that exists separately from their physical body, hormone therapy would not be able to change their behavior. Likewise if it was a psychological choice.

I think you expect way too much out of the cognitive processes of sheep, Gorilla.

JohnnyMoJo wrote:

Mind you, I have no real opinion about this. I thought it was an interesting story, made even more interesting by the reaction of the gay community. Are they right to be so offended?

I think they do. Homosexuality is something that happens in nature - I mean, we've even got gay sheep, now! Approaching homosexuality in terms such as 'its a defect in the genes that can be fixed', that is offensive. How come nobody's trying to fix blackness, or Chineseness, or maleness? Each of those characteristics is naturally occurring; why not come up with a hormonal 'fix' for them?

I think the more interesting debate is what others have suggested: How much control should parents have over the outcome of their own offspring? Should it be complete control? If not, how do you tell parents that they aren't allowed complete control of their children?

And more philosophically: Is it the job of the parents to mold and shape a child, down to its genetic structure, to give it the best chance possible of surviving? Or is it the job of parents to guide their children, by first accepting a child's characteristics as innate and then teaching the child how to use them to the utmost advantage? Which definition has a better success rate?

JohnnyMoJo wrote:

Are they right to be so offended?

Not if Joe's bit is true:

JoeBedurndurn wrote:
These data suggest that prenatal stress decreases sexual motivation in males and leads to clear predisposition to homosexuality, although it does not produce complete inversion of sexual orientation.

Sounds more like this study has to deal with the "closetedness" rather than orientation.

Robear wrote:
Mind you, I have no real opinion about this. I thought it was an interesting story, made even more interesting by the reaction of the gay community. Are they right to be so offended?

Depends on your relation to the issue. What if the guy in Canada who is putting people in magnetic helmets and inducing religious experiences discovers a chemical that will completely inhibit the feeling of religious awe, even when the appropriate parts of the brain are stimulated? Would you feel threatened by such a treatment?

The same treatment could probably be used to force homosexuality in otherwise hetero people. Imagine the outcry if a gay couple adopts a son and then puts him on hormones to unstraighten him.

As I see it, genetic modification isn't any different than plastic surgery. Movie stars do it all the time. What I hope for is some sort of common law that makes the process affordable to everyone. Otherwise we'll see a super-rich genius class who create masterpiece artwork growing up, win the Super Bowl in their 20s, then become multi-trillionares in their 30s. I admit that is a far-future prediction, but possible none-the-less.

JoeBedurndurn wrote:

I think you expect way too much out of the cognitive processes of sheep, Gorilla.

Hey don't put it at my feet. It was Johnny who suggested that it opens the door for a therapy in humans. Following that, it either one of the ways -- either sheep's cognitive processes are elaborate enough, or humans' own isn't much more different from sheep's.

The big question should be why should we give a damn if someone is gay or not?

This is a very interesting experiment. Thanks for bringing it to our attention, JMJ. I completely agree that tinkering with genes at this point would be begging for disaster, but that has little to do with this experiment at all. The difference between prenatal hormone treatment and genetic manipulation is a large one, as you pointed out.

I disagree with those that would hamper this research on the grounds that it is homophobic. Arguing that messing with hormones is likely to create some freaky sheep would be a better one. The origin of homosexuality at the level of the individual is a very important question in biology, and this experiment should be able to provide some answers.

JMJ wrote:

The flip side is that if homosexuality is 'treatable' through hormones in utero, then it might not be completely biological in cause. If a byproduct of this research shows an environmental cause for homosexuality, what does that do to the political movements around gay rights?

From what I've read scientists so far thought that the most likely cause of homosexuality was at the level this experiment is at, hormones in the womb. The working hypothesis was that these hormone levels were influenced by the environment of the mother. Taking this even further it was suggested that these hormones could be linked to circumstances as specific as the mother coming into contact with many people, initiating a kind of biological overpopulation fail-safe.

Whether this explanation for homosexuality would be considered "natural" or not seems to me to be semantic. What is the root cause, the mother's surroundings or the hormones she produces? For that reason I see any political implications of this experiment's results to be misguided.

Robear wrote:

This is a point of interest for me, because the psychological modifications possible with drugs and behavioral modifications argue against the idea of the soul being separate from the body. If someone was gay in their immortal soul that exists separately from their physical body, hormone therapy would not be able to change their behavior. Likewise if it was a psychological choice.

My very tangential question is: how can a soul be gay? Or, for that matter, straight? Aren't souls, by definition, separate from the physical body and thus unaffected by any fleshly concerns such as sexual orientation?

And more philosophically: Is it the job of the parents to mold and shape a child, down to its genetic structure, to give it the best chance possible of surviving? Or is it the job of parents to guide their children, by first accepting a child's characteristics as innate and then teaching the child how to use them to the utmost advantage? Which definition has a better success rate?

If the technology were available, I would jump at the chance to at least screen out heritable diseases like psoriasis (sorry Fars, I have it too and I'd just rather nip it in the bud for any potential offspring). And yes, given the choice I'd pick genes that would indicate greater height, intelligence and athletic ability, and then teach them to use them as best I can.

I guess my answer would be both.

Aren't souls, by definition, separate from the physical body and thus unaffected by any fleshly concerns such as sexual orientation?

Hmmm. I'll have to take a look. But it seems to me that if that is so, then the reprogramming stuff can't really *cure* gays, just help them to resist the same demons of the flesh we all are afflicted with. And it doesn't explain why I don't have the demon of attraction to men.

No, either way it points to biology as the primary source.

Psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis would be first against the wall when the genetic revolution comes.