Posts Tagged ‘sex’

Museums, meh?

In October 2014 on October 20, 2014 at 2:26 pm


Sarah: I love museums. I get a kick out of the science, the history and the culture found in museums large and small, local and international, rich and poor.

But I know not everyone is the same as me. I get that many people would rather not spend an afternoon browsing amongst stuffed mammals, touching geological samples or listening to sounds from the Antarctic. That’s ok, I can deal.

But even if you’d rather wash your hair than visit a biodiversity gallery, I hope the following story will convince you that museums are important.

In 2013, South Australian scientist John Long was working in a museum in Estonia. John is a palaeontologist, and an expert in mapping out how us humans managed to evolve from vertebrates which occupied our world millions and millions of years ago.

Checking out miscellaneous samples that had been sitting around in boxes and not perceived to be of much value, he picked up fossilised bones from a fish. This fish had lived in the seas around Scotland millions of years ago. And something clicked. This fish had a clasper! A clasper is a small boney structure which early male fishy vertebrates used to help deposit sperm inside early female fishy vertebrates. The exciting thing was that this fossil placed penetrative ‘boy on girl’ sex way back in time — 385 million years back, to be precise — and far earlier than it had previously been believed to be happening.

The discovery triggered a detailed analysis of other fossils of the same species and a major paper in the top-ranked journal Nature. It will possibly change how scientists think about sex, evolution, genes, and biodiversity. Yeah, it’s big.

But from my point of view there’s another exciting part of the story. Stuff in museums is valuable. Stuff in museums holds secrets just waiting to be told. Stuff in museums can change our lives! If we could just get a bit more funding around to allow scientists with appropriate training to get in there and work through those boxes.

Here’s a story I wrote on this exciting finding for The Lead South Australia.


Day 296. Infectious cancer

In June 2013 on June 4, 2013 at 9:43 pm


This week’s admission by Michael Douglas that his throat cancer resulted from a sexually-acquired HPV (human papillomavirus) infection was somewhat of a surprise.

But it’s a good reminder to us all that cancer can be infectious.

2006 Australian of the Year Ian Frazer — co-inventer of a vaccine against HPV, which is currently being used to great effect in Australia — knows a thing or two about HPV. Today he wrote the following in an article for The Guardian:

HPV infection is incredibly common. More than 50% of men and women catch the virus within three years of becoming sexually active. Fortunately, the infection will clear in up up to 98% of cases; this occurs during the first few years after they catch HPV, and most of those affected never even know they had the infection in the first place. However, 2% of infected people stay infected, and remain at risk of cancer throughout their lifetime.

For those of you who are worried about the HPV status of Michael’s beautiful wife Catherine Zeta Jones, this story does not mean Michael contracted the virus from Catherine.

According to Ian,

Cancers most commonly develop after 20 to 40 years after catching the virus.

[image thanks to euthman on flickr]

Day 49. Science myths

In September 2012 on September 30, 2012 at 7:09 am

Have you heard the one about the female praying mantis eating her male counterpart immediately after or even whilst they are copulating?

It’s largely a myth, and apparently it’s still doing the rounds (I noticed it posted under the titillating headline Still a Better Love Story Than Twilight as recently as yesterday on ScienceAlert).

The tale came from an centuries-old observation of mantises under stressful laboratory conditions. As Michael Doughty reports on the SerendipUpdate blog, the real story is that,

Although the praying mantis is known for its cannibalistic mating process, in actuality it only occurs 5-31% of the time.

And he quotes scientific observations and data to support his statement, taken from this paper:

 “In nature, mating usually takes place under cover, so rather than leaning over the tank studying their every move, we left them alone and videotaped what happened. We were amazed at what we saw. Out of thirty matings, we didn’t record one instance of cannibalism, and instead we saw an elaborate courtship display, with both sexes performing a ritual dance, stroking each other with their antennae before finally mating. It really was a lovely display”.

For more busted myths about animal behaviour, see here.

[photo thanks to Alex Popovkin on flickr]