Findings — From the September 2008 issue

Findings

Researchers suggested that homosexuality in men may be an evolutionary advantage if it is caused by a set of “feminizing” genes and if men who carry sub-critical numbers of these genes are rendered more sensitive and therefore less likely to kill their own offspring. Gays and lesbians were found to have the most masculine and feminine voices among men and women, respectively, and people with sexy voices were found to have more symmetrical, attractive features. Biologists dated the emergence of vocal sounds to 400 million years ago by studying the gruntings of male toadfish and midshipmanfish, both of which hum deeply to attract females and growl threateningly to ward off rivals. Scientists discovered a sexually deceptive orchid so convincing that male wasps will mate with it to the point of ejaculation. Because unfertilized female wasps can produce sons but not daughters, the orchids on which the wasps waste their sperm will eventually create a larger population of male wasps to pollinate them. It was determined that male bees prefer sex with Ophrys orchids to sex with female bees, that straight men with attractive partners have more sex not because the partners are attractive but to discourage infidelity, and that men who are deceitful, narcissistic thrill-seekers also have more sex.

An Australian zoologist revealed that applying estrogen to the penis induces the skin’s proteins to thicken, thereby creating a barrier against HIV infection, and 90 percent of Africans were found to carry a gene variation that evolved to protect them from malaria but that increases their chances of being infected with HIV; the gene also prolongs their life expectancy if they contract the virus. Scientists discovered that watermelon rinds possess a Viagra-like chemical and were hoping to breed a race of aphrodisiac super-melons wherein the flesh, too, will possess the chemical. Brazilian researchers may have created human sperm cells by injecting pulp from the teeth of human babies into the testicles of mice, and sensory analysts created the perfect cheese sandwich. Computers are now better than people at air hockey.

Light-carbon isotopes uncovered in Australia’s Jack Hills suggest that life may have existed on Earth in the Hadean eon, predating the Late Heavy Bombardment—after which life commonly is thought to have arisen—by several hundred million years. Underwater volcanism was blamed for the Late Cretaceous Anoxic Event that wiped out most marine life; a team of paleontologists found that there have been only three major mass extinctions in the past 540 million years, not five; and geologists correlated every mass extinction in that period with rising sea levels. The extinction risk faced by endangered species may until now have been underestimated one hundredfold due to a modeling error. The world was about to run out of the elements gallium, hafnium, and indium. Zinc will not disappear until 2037. Anthropogenic emissions of nitrogen trifluoride gas, which is 17,000 times as powerful as carbon dioxide in its heat-trapping effects, were rising quickly, and Argentine scientists who attached plastic flatulence-gathering backpacks to cows found that the animals emit up to 1,000 liters of flatulence each day. Toxic clouds from Africa were threatening Caribbean coral reefs, the North Pole was forecast to have its first ice-free summer in recorded history, the Wilkins Ice Shelf was splitting off from Antarctica, and the world’s penguins were dying out. In space, the earth’s shrieking could be heard; Mars’s soil, said chemists, will support asparagus.

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