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December 13, 2004 6:26 PM   Subscribe

Donations appreciated... "The male species is doomed, says Bryan Sykes, professor of human genetics at Oxford University. And a woman-only world is possible." More here, and here.
posted by docpops (49 comments total)

 
Meh. All these scenarios take generations to play out. I'm not gonna worry 'bout it. It's on the same order as "the sun will, one day, burn out."
posted by Doohickie at 6:29 PM on December 13, 2004


Girl power!
posted by Pretty_Generic at 6:32 PM on December 13, 2004


I'm not gonna worry 'bout it.

Why would it be anything to worry about? It's not like all the men on the earth now are going to suddenly up and die.

Are you concerned for distant future generations of your alma mater's football team? I'm thinking it'll just become more of a finesse game....
posted by mr_roboto at 6:36 PM on December 13, 2004


*resists urge to make 'if they outlaw penises, only outlaws will have penises joke', fails, and hedges bet by claiming he tried not to*
posted by The God Complex at 6:42 PM on December 13, 2004


and i, for one, welcome our female overlords!
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:46 PM on December 13, 2004 [1 favorite]


The article is unnecessarily alarmist. The results from Nature did in fact show that the Y23 has a surprising degree of conservation of expressing genes and that therefore its "disappearance" is not likely for many millions of years. And in any case, sexual differentiation and reproduction is such a useful factor against disease (by reshuffling cell membrane proteins in subsequent generations) that it is always going to be very much the rule rather than the exception in large vertebrates.

So eventually there may be no more Y23... So what? One possibility, as the article notes, is that another chromosome will step up. Another possibility is a polyploidic mutation within homo sapiens, doubling or otherwise altering our number of chromosomes. Another possibility is using an alternative sex differentiation method, such as the WZ (birds) or even a haploid/diploid system (bees, some insects). We may even become symbionts with some bacterial or viral sex selection mechanism, similarly to some arthropods. In fact, such a "infection-driven" model of sexual differentiation is a good hypothesis for the origin of sexual differentiation in the first place.

I'd also like to point out that if men get rarer, our value should increase in the free market. It's time to lock in early with some call options!
posted by meehawl at 6:47 PM on December 13, 2004


Ubu, that should be female overladies.

All I can do is apologize for how messy the place is we're leaving to them...
posted by wendell at 6:49 PM on December 13, 2004


Valerie Solanas lives!

PS UbuRolvas: that would qualify you for the Men's Auxiliary...
posted by dinsdale at 6:50 PM on December 13, 2004


That's just dumb. Oh god, the sky is falling! Y chromosome may disappear in 10 million years! Men are doomed! Wait, 10 million years? Isn't it about five times longer than homo habili existed, and about 50 times longer than homo sapiens have been around? I guess it's too early to get an insurance policy.
posted by c13 at 6:54 PM on December 13, 2004


following up on meehaal's comments:

There's a brief article in the December Scientific American that pretty much dismisses everything the Times article says.

It turns out that a lot of the "junk" genes on the Y chromosome are the working ones, arrayed backwards. So that the random mutations can usually be fixed, in an even better fashion than for, say, the X chromosome, which merely relies on a second working copy to keep things working properly.

Men aren't going anywhere. Except maybe to the store for some beer.
posted by thecaddy at 6:55 PM on December 13, 2004


another chromosome will step up

Sounds like an argument for chromosomal loafing if I ever heard one..
posted by srboisvert at 6:57 PM on December 13, 2004


Will the last man out please put the seat down...
posted by Pinback at 7:05 PM on December 13, 2004


Survival of the fittest. Men lose. Now it's an entire species devoted to oprah books, capri pants, and making bitchy comments about celebrities in the supermarket checkout line.
posted by Arch Stanton at 7:08 PM on December 13, 2004


No problem.
*whips out irresistible aphrodisiac: Canadian passport*
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:10 PM on December 13, 2004


An arguement for the idea that it might be true, ultimately, that men were just a flash in the pan: one good way to accomplish the necessary. I'll wait and see.

This is interesting: thanks.

mmmm.. finesse.
posted by reflecked at 7:20 PM on December 13, 2004


Metafilter's boyzone problem cured!

This article is absurdly speculative, hedged with way too many 'ifs', 'mights', and questions marks. I could write an equally valid counter-future hedged with just as many qualifications.

Also, Sykes's characterization of sexual selection is flat-out wrong. He writes, "Sexual selection disappears for the simplest of reasons — there are no longer two sexes ... The destructive spiral of greed and ambition fuelled by sexual selection diminishes. The world no longer reverberates to the sound of men’s clashing antlers and the grim repercussions of conflict," but only right after saying that "the baby girls will not be clones ... They have two biological parents, not just one. Their only difference from any other child is that both parents are women." Sexual selection is the theory that competition for mates between individuals of the same sex drives the evolution of certain traits. If women still have to seek out mates, they will still want to seek out the best mate possible, and an intra-sex competition will stil be in effect. Some traits will be more attractive than others.

In fact, because women are on average attracted to phylogentically male traits (broad shoulders, etc.), if we got rid of men and had women fertilize one another, then sexual selection would drive women to become more male-like. We'd have a race of XX Homo sapiens that look like Arnold Schwartzenegger but have vaginas.

Of course, this is all wild speculation. I'm just having fun.
posted by painquale at 7:25 PM on December 13, 2004


Sexual selection is the theory that competition for mates between individuals of the same sex drives the evolution of certain traits.

There are two strategies in sexual selection, intrasexual selection (competition between males to "own" females) and intersexual selection (females choose preferred characteristics for mating). Both are probably actively used within human selection, and both strategies lead to very different sexual characteristics, and possibly simultaneous competition or negation. I think it's an open question as to which characteristics belong to which strategy.

There's a school of thought that regards, for example, artistic creativity as a typical male intersexual mating display. Some variants of the theory say this originated with the creation of stone cutting tools in early hominids. Given their vast quantity and that fact that many of them appear never to have been used, it seems that some early hominid males spent most of their days obsessively chipping and polishing these tools as mating displays of vigour for females. Think of them as hominid equivalents of bowerbird nests. Eventually, of course, we moved from stone cutting to singing, then language, because it's more energy efficient and can also enhance grooming!

Of course, this theory does not adequately explain female creativity, which is usual for all these evolutionary biology theories. I am also still looking for a good explanation of the female orgasm from these people.
posted by meehawl at 7:36 PM on December 13, 2004


I heard this on NPR this evening. They will have another segment on the same issue tomorrow. NPR
posted by prettyboyfloyd at 7:39 PM on December 13, 2004


From the article:
its [the Y-chromosome's] fate was sealed when it took on the mantle of deciding sex. This probably happened in the early ancestors of the mammals, perhaps 100m years ago when they [mammals] were small, insignificant creatures doing their best to avoid the ruling dynasty of the time — the dinosaurs. A mutation on one of those ancestral chromosomes suddenly, and quite by chance, enabled it to switch on the pathway to male development

I don't understand this. Isn't it a pretty universal thing among vertebrates that there are males and females of every species? Is there something else that determines sex in other animals? I know that other forms of life have different, asexual types of reproduction. So wouldn't the elimination of the Y-chromosome mean that instead of men just ceasing to exist, the way whole way the species reproduces would change? And wouldn't that be an evolution?

Something about this article seems kind of stupid...
posted by gleckt at 7:40 PM on December 13, 2004


Sykes needs better reference material. Apparently, it doesn't matta.
posted by j.p. Hung at 7:44 PM on December 13, 2004


..."Given their vast quantity and that fact that many of them appear never to have been used, it seems that some early hominid males spent most of their days obsessively chipping and polishing these tools as mating displays of vigour for females..."

Those tools,.. they vibrate?
posted by c13 at 7:49 PM on December 13, 2004


Is there something else that determines sex in other animals?

Yes. Even within vertebrates there are several different systems. Within most (but not all) mammals we use the XY system, where the presence of the SRY gene on a chromosome causes (usually) the development of male sexual characteristics. This is pretty specific to primates. Most other mammals use a gene called URE1, the presence of which creates maleness. In fact, our system is called XY, whereas some insects use a similar X0 system, where females are XX, and males are simply X with no other homologous chromosome present. And then there's the platypus, which manages to use both XY and WZ (below).

The WZ system used by birds, many fish, and some insects, where the gene that determines the sex is carried by the female in the ovum (not like us with the sperm). Females in this system are ZW and males are ZZ.

As I mentioned above, some other insects use a haploid-diploid system, where females develop from fertilized ova and are thus diploid, while males develop from unfertilized ova and are thus haploid. Some animals use heat, or the presence or absence of pheromones or other chemical secretions in the environment to trigger sexual selection. Too many female adults? Some of them convert into males!

Fungi and some plants alternate between a haploid and diploid life cycle in some bizarre ways so talking about their "sex" is tricky.
posted by meehawl at 8:09 PM on December 13, 2004


Those tools,.. they vibrate?

In the right hands, definitely. But they have some damn sharp edges...
posted by meehawl at 8:10 PM on December 13, 2004


There are two strategies in sexual selection, intrasexual selection (competition between males to "own" females) and intersexual selection (females choose preferred characteristics for mating).

This is true, but note that this distinction collapses altogether when talking about a unisexual species. The example I gave, whereby females would select other females with male traits, seems to conform more readily to *inter*sexual selection even though there is only one sex. Intrasexual and intersexual selection are two subcategories of sexual selection that only apply to multisexual species. The more broad definition of sexual selection theory, that "competition for mates between individuals of the same sex drives the evolution of certain traits" is what you would have to apply in this case, and that kind of sexual selection would still exist in Sykes's imagined world.

I love the tool creation sexual selection story. It's a good test to spring on people to see if the get evolution (I had it sprung on me). Tell someone a bunch of hammers were found in an early hominid cave, more than could have possibly been used by the cave's inhabitant, then ask what might have been their purpose. The answer is just lovely.
posted by painquale at 8:14 PM on December 13, 2004


Well this is an obvious power grab by a scientist if I ever saw one. Sykes is shameless.
posted by mowglisambo at 8:18 PM on December 13, 2004


Um, gender is not speciation, m'kay? Sorry, I know it's semantics, but...

and please, must every thread contain vibrating overlords?
posted by moonbird at 8:23 PM on December 13, 2004


Let's say the article is right. It's still bullshit. The way I see it, in 10 million years, we as a species will either be so far advanced that we'll spend our lives suspended non-corporeally in an orgiastic communal mind-cloud, a state of androgenous sexual bliss that lasts until entropy sucks all of the energy out of the universe, or we'll have murdered each other loooooooong before the Y-chromosome becomes an issue.
posted by Hildago at 8:42 PM on December 13, 2004


Those overlords.... nevermind. :-)
posted by c13 at 8:43 PM on December 13, 2004


gender is not speciation

Oops. Point taken, my mistake.
posted by painquale at 8:44 PM on December 13, 2004


Reminds me of Y: The Last Man which I personally found to be a damn good read.
posted by nightchrome at 9:12 PM on December 13, 2004


and please, must every thread contain vibrating overlords?

no, just every third one
posted by kamylyon at 9:34 PM on December 13, 2004


I thought Adam's curse was pattern baldness and a deeply felt capacity for laughing at farts, not an unstable gene and the use of over-hot laptops.
posted by paul_smatatoes at 9:41 PM on December 13, 2004


Great. I wonder how long it'll take the ensuing synchronized menstruation to spread around the planet and the resulting equatorial mood swings to knock the earth off of its axis, thus sending it helplesslessly spinning towards the burning sun.

But, on a more positive note, no more Nascar!!!
posted by aliendolphin at 9:45 PM on December 13, 2004


sigh! This website is pretty far from boyzone. Read some other forums out there and this place is highly liberal, educated, and respectful. Stop the girlzone!
posted by Keyser Soze at 10:06 PM on December 13, 2004


I agree with Hildago, except I'd say 1000 years. Maybe 500.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 10:28 PM on December 13, 2004


404
posted by sanko at 10:29 PM on December 13, 2004


I am also still looking for a good explanation of the female orgasm from these people.

I've come across theories suggesting that it helps females to control their chances of conceiving. Orgasm sucks semen from the cervix up into the uterus, increasing its likelihood of hitting an egg. It is also thought to make the vaginal environment more hostile to sperm. So, orgasm means that you can increase the chances of any male who has previously ejaculated into your vagina or is currently ejaculating and decrease the chances of any subsequent male.

This comes in useful when you are trying to get both good genes (from a fit lover) and access to resources (from a loyal mate). You can assume that the loyal mate's semen is pretty much always present: the chance of being the provider of your offspring's genes is what he gets out of supplying you with resources. Sex with your loyal mate is regular and usually involves no orgasm, but you need to keep having it.

However, if you can sneak off when most fertile and mate with your lover, and orgasm just after or during his ejaculation, you can increase your chances of conceiving with his sperm. The semen of the lover is drawn up into the uterus, and your vagina is prepared to destroy any subsequent loyal mate semen. Males help out by producing more semen and sperm if they are cheating (although your loyal mate will also do the same if he suspects you). There is some evidence human females are more likely to mate with lovers when they are most fertile, more likely to orgasm, and that male and female timing of orgasm (e.g. who comes first) is different when cheating.

This all known as the upsuck theory, apprently. Of course, there is even more evidence that this is all nonsense, and human behaviour is difficult to reduce to this mechanistic determism. It's certainly contentious, and one of those areas of science where one has to tread very carefully to avoid seeing things that aren't there but reflect your personal prejudices or beliefs.
posted by alasdair at 3:20 AM on December 14, 2004


This thread has destroyed my innocent notion that babies come from the stork.
posted by TwelveTwo at 3:41 AM on December 14, 2004


Orgasm sucks semen from the cervix up into the uterus, increasing its likelihood of hitting an egg

I've heard this notion but I've not yet seen any double-blind tests where the quantity and location of seminal fluid was measured relative to orgasm (or not). If they do manage to do this experiment then I'd imagine the grant proposal would be a stirring read.

The observance that sperm compete within the vagina is well known, and also that the quantity of sperm remaining after repeated bouts of sex declines. I'd imagine this is because the early sperm induce, to a greater or lesser degree, an immune response within the vagina.
posted by meehawl at 4:30 AM on December 14, 2004


alasdair, you're turning me on!

Okay, I've heard this theory before but this article completely lost it's credibility when it whipped out "Valerie Solanas".
posted by RockCorpse at 6:11 AM on December 14, 2004


The first thing this brought to mind for me was this book which I read many years ago.
posted by rfs at 6:24 AM on December 14, 2004


Survival of the fittest. Men lose. Now it's an entire species devoted to oprah books, capri pants, and making bitchy comments about celebrities in the supermarket checkout line.
posted by Arch Stanton

Great. I wonder how long it'll take the ensuing synchronized menstruation to spread around the planet and the resulting equatorial mood swings to knock the earth off of its axis, thus sending it helplesslessly spinning towards the burning sun.

But, on a more positive note, no more Nascar!!!
posted by aliendolphin


I'd say the boyzone is alive and well. Thanks.
posted by agregoli at 7:11 AM on December 14, 2004


Sex with your loyal mate is regular and usually involves no orgasm

I have never found this to be the case with my long-term sexual partners. In fact, quite the reverse - both frequency and number of orgasms increase with intimate familiarity. Is this really true in general?
posted by meehawl at 8:16 AM on December 14, 2004


both frequency and number of orgasms increase with intimate familiarity. Is this really true in general?

Empirically, I would tend to agree. But I also remember reading something about the release of certain pheremones during orgasm (um...in the ejaculate?) that have bonding properties of some sort.
posted by RockCorpse at 8:31 AM on December 14, 2004


Yeah, that doesn't make sense in my experience either.
posted by agregoli at 8:31 AM on December 14, 2004


certain pheremones

Oxytocin. You can elevate levels immediately in females by mammary massage, especially nipple stimulation. Good for enhancing milk production also. Suckling infants create massive doses. Milking cattle also produces a lot of this. You can, of course, now buy oxytocin supplements. It doesn't like being digested, so direct hypo or IV administration is preferred.

Mammals rule!
posted by meehawl at 10:02 AM on December 14, 2004


All this is very interesting, but I'm still giggling about Wendell's "overladies" comment.
posted by Specklet at 10:04 AM on December 14, 2004


This book talks about this, too.
posted by faux ami at 1:34 PM on December 14, 2004


Reads like a bunch of crap from people who got their politics and their science all confused.
posted by delmoi at 11:52 AM on December 15, 2004


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