Saturday, February 06, 2016


The earliest days of gestation

This is a quote from the website of TransOva, which moves the little conception starts of a new creature at the 7th day of development, out of one womb into another.  “Embryo Transfer (ET) is an advanced reproductive technology and a progressive tool that can help you produce more offspring from an elite cow and can extend the impact of outstanding cattle genetics. . .

“Conventional (in vivo) ET involves specific hormonal treatment (with follicle stimulating hormone) of donor cows and heifers to cause multiple follicles to ovulate. The donors are bred using artificial insemination (AI) following this superovulation regime and estrus or standing heat.  Approximately seven days after insemination, embryos are non-surgically collected or “flushed” from the donor’s uterus and transferred fresh into synchronous recipients who will serve as surrogate mothers. The embryos may also be cryopreserved or frozen to be transferred at a later point in time.  The frozen embryos will be maintained in liquid nitrogen storage vessels until they are thawed and transferred.” 
Fisting a cow to transfer an embryo

The process is the same for all mammals.  The relevant practice for humans is called surrogate pregnancy.  It’s quite common for humans and very ordinary on modern ranches.  A ranch here in Valier ships frozen cattle embryos around the planet.    

In the natural world, no one knows how many morulas and blastocysts don’t survive.  It turns out that the uterus is not very pleased to shelter a new being of a different genome. Some morning sickness is partly the result of the uterus thinking there’s a germ or foreign object to get rid of, while the developing embryo claims its right to exist and grow into a real baby.  There’s a certain amount of grappling that goes on and sometimes the embryo loses.  This kind of loss is usually early in the first trimester.

The eight cell stage

Recent thinking about humans is that there are three trimesters IN the uterus and a “fourth trimester” of development, actual gestation, OUTSIDE the mother but as close as possible to the mother (or a clever imitation of her, an incubator).  It is during this fourth three-month trimester that the most human parts of “human” are completed.  None of the great apes have a fourth trimester, because they don’t need it.  Their heads never get that big.  (Go ahead, make a joke.)
Beginning the fourth trimester.

I’ve ordered this book since it hints at how all the mind-boggling bits come together.  How New Humans Are Made: Cells and Embryos, Twins and Chimeras, Left and Right, Mind/self, Soul, Sex, and Schizophrenia  By Charles E. Boklage.  The tiniest dropped stitch, misfolded molecule, varied isotope of an element, and the consequences could be death, malfunction for life, or something new that opens up potential.  Like a gene that confers immunity or at least resistance to HIV.  Pygmies have several of these immunities because over the aeons they’ve endured waves of different strains of HIV.  Many deaths mean tough survivors.

Genetic instructions and their consequences must always grapple with the circumstances of the moment, physical, emotional, geographical, situational.  The mother is a buffer until the “fourth trimester” when the world outside her body, possibly outside her control, get access to the infant at the most vulnerable time of its life.  Many die.  At that point men may be saviors or killers or merely torturers.  Hard to think about.  Often in the newspaper.

Benjamin C. Campbell

A professor requested an article of mine published on paper in the Journal of Pastoral Care and Counselling, which made me curious about his work.  His name is Benjamin C. Campbell and he works at the University of Wisconsin.  His specialty is “The 7R Polymorphism in the Dopamine Receptor D4 Gene (DRD4)” and its consequences in terms of the behavior of men, particularly financial risk-taking, impulsivity, sensation seeking, and some others.  The idea is that particular variations of this gene set produce more testosterone than the average and that the increase endows them with more boldness, willingness to move away and explore, aversion to child-raising, and so on.  All the things we associate with testosterone because it is a politicized hormone, accused of violence.  Many are interested in which components of sexuality can be inherited.

I got these papers off of “Researchgate,” one of several websites that publish academic papers.  They are not easy to read.  Campbell’s studies are very specific about what tests they used: simple “buccal swabbing” which is the q-tip to the inside of the cheek seen on crime shows that reveals DNA, plus a test for testosterone in saliva, which is a fairly stable indicator of testosterone in the whole system.  They (there are several authors for each paper) never make definitive declarations about what testosterone does — it is not established in terms of personality, but that’s why they’re doing the research.  It’s a reality check.  What they found was not either/or results, but rather subtle tilts of a scale.

This is my hand.  What do you think?

Some tests were physical.  It’s proposed that a test for exposure to testosterone in the womb, mostly coming from the mother being under stress and therefore producing adrenaline which converts to testosterone, is that the infant’s index finger will be shorter than the ring finger.  It’s still controversial — far from being a fact — but I’m interested because this is true of my fingers.  My mother is dead, but I think it was probably true of her as well.  And one aunt.  But the three of us had quite different lives, depending on the circumstances, opportunities, educations, and vicissitudes of our times.  None of us had mothers who were safely protected.  My aunt was an army nurse in WWII in London and Rheims.  My mother lived in a neighborhood that became a ghetto.

Among the other tests, which were physical, was one paper and pencil instrument, a Sensation Seeking Survey.  You can take a sample test at  It’s speculative.  You might like Myers-Briggs or even a Tarot deck better.  But it’s a good conversation starter. Another test was for markers of masculinity on a full-frontal scan of the face: heaviness of bone around the eyes, size of jaw, beard and so on.   The more like Arnold Schwartzenegger, the more testosterone.

Arnold Schwartzenegger

There was no test for being gay.  Gay includes a broad span of types of men.  There IS no genetic test for desire.  What arouses desire, what the dimensions and intensity of it might be, what kind of person — not just what gender — triggers attachment and loyalty, all of that is ground for exploration.  Simple lust, the kind of thing testosterone is supposed to impel, can make a person with a penis fuck a watermelon, regardless of its gender.  But this is not the kind of desire that leads to love attachment.

What Campbell was testing was “the 7 R (I think that means there are 7 repeats — genes often repeat) Polymorphism" (that means many forms) in the "Dopamine Receptor D4 Gene (DRD4)."  We have to pause to say that dopamine is a molecule that carries messages through the neurological system.  It works, like most of the loops in the body, by going and coming, rising and falling, and in reciprocity with an opposite, and affecting other molecular pathways.  As with the familiar phenomenon of diabetes when a cell's receptors won't let insulin into the cell, what Campbell et al are studying is not testosterone itself, but the number of receptors in the cells.  I don't quite get this, but I think they are not looking at the generation of testosterone, but rather the ability to use it in cells.  This is something like measuring antibodies (a response) to determine infection.  

Dopamine is one of the most important circuits, but more than that, it has been implicated in reward and motivation, sexual and pair-bonding behavior.  Long alleles (an allele is a section of genes along the chromosome) of these specific genes that seem to affect behavior are DRD4 and DRD2.  (I haven’t decoded them yet.  They’re about location.)  They seem to influence the desire for sexual novelty, early first intercourse, and some confusing variations in the number of children produced: fewer for some ethnic groups and more for others.

Prairie Voles in Love

We’ve all been fascinated by the two kinds of prairie voles which are either faithful to one partner for their whole lives and dependably help to raise the children if they live on the flats and the opposite if they live in the mountains.  It is genetically controlled: the epigenome has shut off genes in one or the other.  But so far the experiments I’ve seen only deal with vasopressin and oxytocin rather than dopamine.  The idea is that the difference arose because of different chemical systems, like the testosterone tilts that make some people more up for adventure and exploring.  Those voles went uphill and in the process lost the loop for loving family.  Some suggest that American pioneers did that as well, making them poor husbands and fathers, even dangerous for fourth trimester infants.

These dopamine alleles might have originated -- and been positively selected for -- between 40 and 50 thousand years ago, about the time Neanderthals began to die out.  These alleles might key into the great migrations of people across the Eurasian and African continents, but would also be affected by the climate of the times — temperature, water levels, and so on.  I’ll keep thinking about it.  I think some boys who are now discarded by our society as too rowdy, too inclined to trouble, too sexy, might be exactly the people we need and who will survive the terrifying migrations we are witnessing in our own times.

 Homo ergaster boy found at Koobi Fora (died at 12)

1 comment:

Mary Strachan Scriver said...

Conversation with Aad, the Netherlands poet, philosopher and psychiatric nurse, led to these further thoughts on my part:

"Your insights help me see where this idea needs a little more work. I need to put more emphasis on the subtlety of the interactions of these molecules. The media has taught us to see the various molecules as definitive, free-standing, one-on-one, when in fact they are more like tendencies and “if/then” sorts of influence. So much of things like child-care is dictated by the environment, the carrying-capacity and the nature of making a living. If it requires both parents to be out hunting and gathering, then either the grandparents must step in, the babies must be carried along on backs, or sometimes even wrapped up tightly and left in the dwelling — there was a group in Bolivia that did this. The great advantage of humans is that they can vary their practice to fit the situation, but animals have very little leeway. A lion cannot become aquatic.

"Something similar is true of sexual preference. “Gay” means so many different things. Surely you are gay in your own specific way and it is not like the culturally defined stereotype, so that the struggle is not so simple as to choose male or female, but more of a puzzle about how to fit into so many choices about how to live life. People do not spend their lives fucking all day and all night. They may not separate social life with a group in terms of everyone being alike sexually. And I always suspect there are people who like sub-groups of gays (like “bears”) so much that they pretend to be gay! Paris haute couture may include male gays, but are all those women gay?

"The point of the fourth trimester is that the prefrontal cortex, where the last stage of human evolution took place — indeed was the force that pushed out the forehead to make room for the additional neurons — made human baby heads too big to get through the birth canal. It’s not that chimp babies are more or less vulnerable, but that their forehead bulges are missing. But having to finish developing outside the mother’s body means that the prefrontal cortex functions might be damaged, which makes that baby less human! An unfinished primate."

There's a book title!

Prairie Mary