Human Nature

Bless Me, Father, for I Have Tendencies

And other news from science and technology.

(For the latest Human Nature columns on stem cells, Pat Robertson, and abortion, click here.)

The Vatican will extend its ban on gay priests to those with “deeply rooted homosexual tendencies.” In theory, the old rule banned gay sex, whereas the new rule bans gay inclinations. It allows a “transitory” homosexual past if you’ve stayed celibate for three years prior to ordination. Liberals hope “deeply rooted” can be interpreted to mean it’s OK to be homosexually oriented as long as you’re confident you can keep it in your pants.

A genetic mutation correlates with antisocial behavior in kids with ADHD. In a six-year sample of 240 ADHD kids, “Early-onset antisocial behavior” was “predicted by a specific COMT gene variant” even after accounting for IQ, age, and sex.

Emotional neglect deadens a child’s hormonal responses for years. A study of babies adopted from emotionless Romanian and Russian orphanages shows that three years after adoption, they still don’t generate normal amounts of hormones that are supposed to give you positive feelings about interacting with other people. Many of these kids have long-term social problems. The question is whether this screws up kids permanently.

The first cloned human embryos to yield stem cells were obtained by paying 16 women for their eggs. This violates ethical rules that such eggs must be donated because women should not feel economic pressure to donate eggs, which poses some risks to them. Unconfirmed reports say some eggs in the experiment may have been obtained from subordinates of the chief researcher, which is also forbidden as potentially coercive. The scandal has blown up a U.S.-Korean cloning partnership. (For Slate’s take on Koreans and cloning, click here; for Human Nature’s take on cloning and the alternatives, click here.)

A new arousal drug is triggering debate over sexual doping. The drug, PT-141, is in final tests prior to possible FDA approval. It’s being spun as pleasurable for women and better than Viagra because it targets your brain, not your blood. If this or another drug pans out as a reliable turn-on, experts speculate: 1) It will be officially marketed to people with sexual dysfunctions but unofficially sold to everyone; 2) it will make arousal a choice; 3) it will compress sexuality to fit invasive work schedules; and 4) it will let you dope your way around emotional or relationship problems instead of facing them.

The Vatican’s top astronomer said “intelligent design isn’t science.” He said ID “should be taught when religion or cultural history is taught, not science.” Meanwhile a powerful cardinal (and potential pope) argued that evolution doesn’t explain everything but “is a scientific theory,” whereas “the biblical teaching about creation is not a scientific theory.” (For Human Nature’s latest take on ID as science, click here.)

Fear can be genetically controlled. Scientists made mice bolder by disabling a gene that helps bad memories trigger unconscious fear. Upside: Because unconscious fear operates similarly among mammals, we could devise a drug to block the gene in humans, thereby relieving anxiety or post-traumatic stress. Downside: Nature gives us unconscious fear to keep us from repeating risky behavior. Lose the gene, and you could lose your life.

Regenerative cell technology is turning to a lucrative target: balding. One company is testing “hair cloning,” in which follicle-producing cells from non-balding parts of your head are cultured in a lab dish, grown in large numbers, and injected into balding areas of your scalp. The concept showed promise in a tiny initial sample of men. (For Human Nature’s latest take on real cloning, click here.)

A study indicates that oral sex can lead to mouth cancer. Swedish researchers found that 36 percent of mouth cancer patients, but only 1 percent of a control group, carried the human papilloma virus (or HPV), which can be acquired through oral sex. Study director’s conclusion: “You should avoid having oral sex.” (For Human Nature’s take on the risks of oral vs. anal sex, click here.)

NASA will send robots to find extractable water and oxygen for a manned moon base. The four or five missions will prepare the way for a permanent station at the moon’s south pole in 2018. Early betting is that it’ll be easier to get water than oxygen.

Two patients received blood vessels made from their skin. Scientists put tiny bits of skin and vein in a lab dish, applied chemicals that caused specific kinds of growth, and harvested big sheets of tissue that were then rolled into vessels and implanted in the donors.

Latest Human Nature columns: 1) The overconfidence of stem-cell liberals.2) Pat Robertson vs. the pope on intelligent design. 3) Abortion, sexism, and the polls. 4) Does Alito treat women like girls? 5) Monty Python’s flying creationism. 6) Two breakthroughs in the stem-cell war. 7) Bill Bennett’s racial determinism. 8) The mainstreaming of anal sex.