ArticlePDF Available

Homosexuality via canalized sexual development: A testing protocol for a new epigenetic model

Authors:

Abstract and Figures

We recently synthesized and reinterpreted published studies to advance an epigenetic model for the development of homosexuality (HS). The model is based on epigenetic marks laid down in response to the XX vs. XY karyotype in embryonic stem cells. These marks boost sensitivity to testosterone in XY fetuses and lower it in XX fetuses, thereby canalizing sexual development. Our model predicts that a subset of these canalizing epigenetic marks stochastically carry over across generations and lead to mosaicism for sexual development in opposite-sex offspring - the homosexual phenotype being one such outcome. Here, we begin by outlining why HS has been under-appreciated as a commonplace phenomenon in nature, and how this trend is currently being reversed in the field of neurobiology. We next briefly describe our epigenetic model of HS, develop a set of predictions, and describe how epigenetic profiles of human stem cells can provide for a strong test of the model.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Insights & Perspectives
Homosexuality via canalized sexual
development: A testing protocol
for a new epigenetic model
William R. Rice
1)
*, Urban Friberg
2)
and Sergey Gavrilets
3)
We recently synthesized and reinterpreted published studies to advance an
epigenetic model for the development of homosexuality (HS). The model is
based on epigenetic marks laid down in response to the XX vs. XY karyotype in
embryonic stem cells. These marks boost sensitivity to testosterone in XY
fetuses and lower it in XX fetuses, thereby canalizing sexual development. Our
model predicts that a subset of these canalizing epigenetic marks stochastically
carry over across generations and lead to mosaicism for sexual development in
opposite-sex offspring the homosexual phenotype being one such outcome.
Here, we begin by outlining why HS has been under-appreciated as a
commonplace phenomenon in nature, and how this trend is currently being
reversed in the field of neurobiology. We next briefly describe our epigenetic
model of HS, develop a set of predictions, and describe how epigenetic profiles
of human stem cells can provide for a strong test of the model.
Keywords:
.epigenetics; gonad-trait discordance; homosexuality
Introduction
Homosexuality (HS) is commonly as-
sumed to be very rare in nature but this
perception appears to be an artifact
associated with an historical reluctance
to publish socially and religiously
controversial information. For example,
consider the early 20th century natural-
ist George Murray Levick who recorded
the following observation in his field
notes while observing Ade
´
lie’s penguins
in Antarctica Here on one occasion I
saw what I took to be a cock copulating
with a hen. When he had finished,
however, and got off, the apparent hen
turned out to be a cock, and the act was
again performed with their positions
reversed, the original “hen” climbing
on to the back of the original cock,
whereupon the nature of their proceed-
ing was disclosed.” (reprinted in [1]).
Levick was so taken aback by these
“socially inappropriate” behaviors that
he hid them in his notebook by record-
ing them in code with Greek letters. He
also decided against publishing them
except in the relatively obscure expedi-
tion’s reports where they were rejected
for publication [1]. Circumventing this
type of reporting bias, several books
have been written in the last 15 years in
which the authors searched the pub-
lished literature for observations
usually mentioned as an aside in an
unrelated context describing homo-
sexual behavior in nature. Many hun-
dreds of such examples were found
across a broad spectrum of species
[24]. For instance, homosexual behav-
ior has been recorded in 93 species of
birds [5]. Representative examples in-
clude a 14% incidence of female-female
nesting pairs of Western Gulls in
California [6] and this value is 31% for
Laysan albatrosses on the island of
Oahu [7]. Male-male pairs occur at a rate
of 56% in Australian black swans [8],
and in graylag geese 15% of males only
participated in male-male pair bonds
over their lifetime, while 37% were
bisexual [9]. Even species as familiar
as barnyard sheep have about 8%
strictly homosexual males [10] yet
almost no one except sheep breeders is
DOI 10.1002/bies.201300033
1)
Department of Ecology, Evolution & Marine
Biology, University of California, Santa Barbara,
CA, USA
2)
Department of Evolutionary Biology, Uppsala
University, Uppsala, Sweden
3)
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary
Biology, Department of Mathematics,
National Institute for Mathematical and
Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS), University of
Tennessee, Knoxville, TN, USA
*Corresponding author:
William R. Rice
E-mail: rice@lifesci.ucsb.edu
Abbreviations:
AR, androgen receptor; E, estradiol; hESC, human
embryonic stem cell; HFSC, hair follicle stem cell;
HS, homos exuality; SA, sexually antagonistic; T,
testosterone
764 www.bioessays-journal.com Bioessays 35: 764–770, ß 2013 The Authors. Bioessays published by WILEY Periodicals, Inc. This is an
open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial-NoDerivs
License, which permits use and distribution in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the
use is non-commercial and no modifications or adaptations are made.
Hypotheses
aware of this fact, presumably because
it has been socially inappropriate to
mention it.
HS appears to be relatively common
in humans. For example, one well
designed study of a large sample of
twins in Australia, that convincingly
guaranteed anonymity, found an inci-
dence of HS of 8% in both sexes when
measured as a Kinsey score of same-sex
partner preference >0 [11]. HS is not a
dichotomous alternative to heterosexu-
ality in that there is an empirically
verified continuum between exclusive
attraction to same-sex and opposite-sex
sexual partners (see [11] for a quantifi-
cation of the homosexual/heterosexual
spectrum in both sexes). This continu-
um is usually measured by a Kinsey
score that varies from 0 (no attraction to
same-sex partners) to 6 (exclusive
attraction to same-sex partners). Here
we use the term homosexual to include
all Kinsey scores >0, i.e. to include even
weak attraction to members of the same
sex.
Neurophysiological studies have
documented physical differences be-
tween homosexuals and heterosexuals
([12], and reviewed in [13]). For example,
females usually have cerebral hemi-
spheres of similar size whereas in males
the right hemisphere is larger. Also,
functional connectivity of the paired
amygdala with other parts of the brain is
markedly sexually dimorphic. PET and
MRI neuroimaging was used to show
that both of these sexual dimorphisms
in neuroanatomy are reversed in homo-
sexual men and women [12]. Similar
reversals in sexual dimorphism were
found in the neural pathways that
homosexual men and women used
when they process two putative sex
pheromones derived from testosterone
(4,16-androstadien-3-one) and proges-
terone [estra-1,3,5(10),16-tetraen-3-ol]
([14, 15], but see [16] for conflicting
evidence on androstadienone). These
studies illustrate how the biological
underpinnings of HS are beginning to
emerge as a new research focus in
neurobiology.
Because of the established high
incidence of male HS in sheep, this
species is currently being used as the
main neurophysiological model system
to determine how sexually dimorphic
nuclei in the brain become sex-reversed
in homosexuals (reviewed in [17]). In the
more tractable rodent model systems,
there is a strong reliance on the
intracellular conversion of testosterone
(T) to estradiol (E) during fetal and
neonatal androgen signaling that is
absent in humans and sheep. As a
consequence, the estrogen receptor
mediates much of the sexual dimor-
phism in the rodent brain, rather than
the androgen receptor (AR) as occurs in
human males, and this major change in
the hormonal signaling pathway makes
rodents less useful in the study of
human HS.
Our hypothesis of an epigenetic
contribution to HS was motivated by
several observations from published
studies that we found to be collectively
more compatible with an epigenetic
compared to a genetic causation of HS:
(i) HS has substantial realized herita-
bility yet it has low concordance
between monozygotic twins in both
sexes (20%, reviewed in [18]) and
genome-wide genetic associations
studies have failed to find any
associated genetic markers with
male HS, even when SNP density
is high [10].
(ii) HS is expected to be selected
against by natural selection and
there is only limited evidence for a
counterbalancing benefit through
kin selection, overdominance, or
sexually antagonistic selection
yet its prevalence is substantially
higher than predicted by feasible
forms of mutation-selection bal-
ance (reviewed in [19]).
(iii) Mutations in humans that reverse
sexually dimorphic fetal androgen
profiles only partially reverse sexu-
al dimorphism in these individuals
(reviewed in [20, 21]).
(iv) Epigenetic marks in mice that
mosaically reverse some but not
other sexually dimorphic behaviors
and gene expression profiles in the
brain can and do carry over across
generations and contribute to heri-
table discordance between the
gonad and behavior [22, 23].
Any hypothesis for a sexual pheno-
type in humans must build on the
overwhelming evidence supporting the
“classical” view of the ontogeny of
sexual dimorphism in mammals (also
known as the Jost paradigm, reviewed
in [24]). In this paradigm, there is a long-
term “organizational” influence of high
vs. low androgen exposure during fetal
and perinatal development that leads to
sexual dimorphism of the brain, genita-
lia, and behavior at birth and early
childhood. These organizational effects
of fetal androgen exposure have a
cellular-level memory that controls the
subsequent “activational” influence of
androgens and estrogens at puberty on
the development of secondary sexual
traits, including sexual behavior
(reviewed in [18]). There is also recent
evidence that the cellular-level memory
of high fetal/neonatal androgen expo-
sure is produced by androgen-depen-
dent epigenetic changes (including both
histone tail modifications and DNA
methylation) that modulate gene ex-
pression independent of the DNA
sequences of genes and their regulatory
elements (reviewed in [25]).
The classical view, however, cannot
account for all sexual dimorphisms. It is
well established that many cellular-
level sexual dimorphisms precede the
fetal developmental time when there is
androgen secretion by the testes of XY
males. For example, preimplantation
mammalian XX and XY embryos have
different metabolic rates, growth rates,
and responses to environmental stres-
sors (reviewed in [26]). These differences
are associated with: (i) different gene
expression profiles including many
hundreds of genes, most of which are
autosomal, and (ii) XX- and XY-specific
DNA methylation levels that have been
reported on the promotors of specific
gene loci (reviewed in [27]). Later in
ontogeny, but prior to the time when T is
first secreted by the testes in males,
there is XX vs. XY differential expression
of at least 51 genes in the developing
mouse brain most of which are
autosomal [28]. These observations
demonstrate that cellular-level sexual
dimorphism is substantial far in ad-
vance of the organizational effect of
fetal androgen signaling.
Hypothesis: An epigenetic
basis for HS
Here we briefly overview our previously
published model [29] in order to con-
struct a foundation for the focus of this
.....Insights & Perspectives W. R. Rice et al.
765
Bioessays 35: 764–770, ß 2013 The Authors. Bioessays published by WILEY Periodicals, Inc.
Hypotheses
report: how to test the model. We will
focus on discordance between the
gonad and sexual orientation (HS) but
our epigenetic model also applies to
many other discordances (structural
and neurological), as we have described
in detail previously [29]. Our model
begins with the observation that the
difference in T concentration between
XX and XY fetuses alone cannot fully
account for the T-associated sexual
dimorphism that develops during fetal
development [29]. For example, XX
human fetuses homozygous for a null
mutation at the CYP21A2 locus have a
block in the cortisol synthesis pathway
that leads via conversion of accumu-
lated cortisol precursors to elevated
levels of T throughout fetal develop-
ment. Despite a male-typical androgen
profile starting at no later than gesta-
tional week-16 [30], these XX individua-
ls usually have only partially mas-
culinized genitalia and childhood
behavior, nearly all have female-gender
identity, and most have sexual partner
preference for males or only weak levels
of HS (i.e. those forms based on erotic
imagery alone, excluding the sex of
actual sexual partners) (reviewed in
[21]). These observations, and many
others described in our original article,
led us to conclude that XY fetuses have
elevated sensitivity to fetal androgens
and XX fetuses have blunted sensitivity.
XX- and XY- induced epigenetic
marks (epi-marks), that are produced
during the major pulse of genome-wide
epigenetic reprogramming that occurs
in embryonic stem cells, are the most
parsimonious mechanism to account for
the differential sensitivity of XX and XY
fetuses to circulating androgens. This
assumption of our model is supported
by the observations that (i) XX- and XY-
specific epi-marks are empirically estab-
lished to be present by the preimplan-
tation blastocyst stage of mice and cattle
(reviewed in [27]), and (ii) epi-marks in
mice can mediate the cellular memory
associated with the fetal-androgen-in-
duced organizational effects on later
gene expression profiles at puberty
(reviewed in [25]). XX- and XY-specific
epi-marks produced in the early embryo
could steer sexually dimorphic devel-
opment in all cell lineages in a direction
that is concordant with the gonad
(canalization). Such epi-marks pro-
duced in embryonic stem cells could
also account for the substantial realized
heritability of HS because they would be
passed on to all stem cell lineages,
including those of the germ line.
However, from an evolutionary genetics
perspective, canalizing XX- and XY-
specific epi-marks would be sexually
antagonistic (SA-epi-marks) if they
sometimes carry over across genera-
tions and steer sexual development in a
gonad-discordant direction in opposite-
sex descendent offspring (like the
stress-induced trans-generational epi-
marks that partially feminize the brains
of male mice [22, 23].
Our mathematical modeling analy-
sis demonstrated that mutations coding
for SA-epi-marks are expected to accu-
mulate to a frequency of 100% (i.e. to
fixation) over a broad spectrum of
parameter space despite the fitness-
reducing HS phenotype they sometimes
produce in descendent offspring: hence
genetic polymorphism associated with
HS would be expected to be absent
except during brief periods in evolu-
tionary time after they originated. Fixa-
tion of these mutations is expected
because they have a net advantage
due to a high ratio of benefit to
realized-cost. The benefit is large be-
cause the SA-epi-marks always help the
fetus that formed them by buffering
development from gonad-discordant
phenotypes produced from intrinsic
variation in fetal androgen levels as
well as environmental androgen mimics
and antagonists. The realized-cost is
low because the SA-epi-marks only
rarely carry over trans-generationally
in a manner that produces HS in
opposite-sex descendants.
Because there is a wide diversity of
AR cofactors which are highly tissue
specific (>200 [31]), SA-epi-marks at
genes controlling this stage of the
androgen signaling pathway would be
able to influence the phenotype in a
highly mosaic fashion, such that most
traits in an opposite-sex descendent
would be gonad-concordant (like the
genitalia and sexual identity) while a
minority would be gonad discordant
(like sexual preference). However, any
model of HS must account for the low
concordance for this trait between
monozygotic twins. High variation in
epi-mark strength between monozygot-
ic twins can account for this attribute.
For example, CpG DNA methylation
levels differed by as much as 54% at
birth in a sample of four gene promoters
in humans [32]. Our model predicts low
concordance for HS between identical
twins because while they inherit the
same trans-generational SA-epi-mark
that steers sexual preference in a
gonad-discordant direction, each twin
will lay down gonad-concordant epi-
marks independently during ontogeny.
HS occurs only when the shared inher-
ited trans-generational SA-epi-mark is
combined with one or more weaker-
than-average gonad-concordant epi-
marks that are produced de novo during
the ontogeny of each twin (Fig. 1).
Testing the epigenetic
canalization model of HS
Testable predictions
A strength of our model is that it makes
unambiguous and testable predictions:
(1) XX- and XY-specific epi-marks are
present in human embryonic stem
cells (hESCs) in embryos that will
differentiate into heterosexual indi-
viduals (¼ candidate HS-inducing
epi-marks).
(2) One or more candidate HS-inducing
epi-marks are XX- or XY-discordant
in the hESCs of embryos that will
differentiate into HS individuals (¼
HS-associated epi-marks).
(3) At least some HS-associated epi-
marks are sometimes trans-genera-
tionally inherited, and therefore will
be shared with high probability
when at least one monozygotic twin
is homosexual irrespective of the
twins’ concordance for HS.
(4) In HS individuals, one or more HS-
associated epi-marks is combined
with one or more weaker-than-aver-
age gonad-concordant epi-marks (¼
HS-facilitating epi-marks, which may
have been produced after the embry-
onic stem cell stage) that regulate
genes participating in the later stages
of the androgen signaling pathway in
the brain (e.g. AR cofactors and/or
theirmatchingmiRNAs),orare
limited in expression to sexually
dimorphic brain nuclei.
(5) Monozygotic twins that are discor-
dant for HS will be discordant for
the presence of one or more HS-
W. R. Rice et al. Insights & Perspectives
.....
766 Bioessays 35: 764–770, ß 2013 The Authors. Bioessays published by WILEY Periodicals, Inc.
Hypotheses
facilitating epi-marks, and vice
versa for twins that are concordant
for HS.
In Fig. 2 we diagram developmental
stages when sex-specific epi-marks are
potentially produced. The best source of
cells to search for the HS-inducing epi-
marks predicted by our model will be
hESCs, as well as more committed stem
cell lineages leading to the brain. We
lack expertise in the production, cul-
ture, and analysis of stem cells, so the
tests that we propose below may lack
sophistication. We nonetheless hope
that they can at least serve to inspire
those with more suitable experience to
test for an epigenetic basis of HS,
including the specific model that we
have proposed.
XX- and XY-specific
epi-marks in hESCs
Prediction 1 can be tested, in principle,
by comparing genome-wide epigenetic
profiles of hESCs (or other early-embryo
stems cell lineages retaining those epi-
marks transmitted from hESCs to the
fetal brain) between heterosexual males
and females. Established, publicly
available hESC cell culture lines could
be used for this purpose whenever their
sex chromosome karyotype is known
with the caveat that a small percentage
(about 510%, depending on the true
incidence of HS in adults) may not be
from embryos that ultimately would
have become heterosexual. Our model
predicts that consistent differences [at
least 100
(1-prevalence of HS)%] will be
found in the genome-wide epigenetic
profiles of hESCs with XX vs. XY
karyotypes, and these sexually dimor-
phic epi-marks would represent candi-
dates for those causing the HS
phenotype when un-erased across gen-
erations. Failure to find such sex-
specific epi-marks would provide strong
evidence against our epigenetic HS
model. To narrow the search, assayed
genes could be restricted to those that
participate in the androgen signaling
pathways in the brain, especially its
later stages (e.g. AR cofactors).
Assuming that at least some XX- and
XY-associated epi-marks are identified,
they would be classified as candidate
HS-inducing epi-marks. Such sex-specific
epi-marks are not unexpected because it
is already established in the mouse
model system that there is (i) reduced
expression of the de novo DNA meth-
yltransferases Dnmt3a and Dnmt3b as
well as global hypomethylation in XX
compared to XY mESCs, (ii) XX vs. XY
differences in the expression of genes
coding for histone modifiers in blasto-
cysts cells, and (iii) markedly different
autosomal gene expression profiles in
XX and XY blastocysts (reviewed
in [33]). Established hESC cell culture
lines, however, may be less than ideal
windows into the epigenome of in vivo
hESCs due to selection and adaptation
in response to the cell culture environ-
ment. For example, established hESC
lines are predominantly XX (75%,
[34]), indicating potential selection to
lose male-specific epi-marks. Some XX
Figure 1. An epigenetic model for homosexuality. Subscripted symbols represent one or more epi-marks that influence sensitivity to
androgens by the developing genitalia (G
e
) or sexually dimorphic brain regions influencing sexual partner preference (S
p
) or sexual identity (S
i
).
Lighter symbols represent weaker than average epi-marks (e.g. shorter CpG methylation tracts) and bolder symbols represent stronger than
average epi-marks. Male homosexuality begins when a stronger than average epi-mark is produced in the ESCs of a female (in response to
the XX karyotype) that later blunts androgen signaling in one or more brain regions influencing sexual preference thereby canalizing this
phenotype. Next, the epi-mark carries over trans-generationally to a son and is paired with one or more de novo, weaker than average, epi-
marks that influence sexual partner preference. This conflicting combination of epi-marks weakens androgen signaling in a mosaic fashion,
sex-reversing partner preference but not the genitalia nor sexual identity. The same process leads to female homosexuality, but with the
sexes reversed and the trans-generational epi-mark boosting rather than blunting androgen signaling.
.....Insights & Perspectives W. R. Rice et al.
767
Bioessays 35: 764–770, ß 2013 The Authors. Bioessays published by WILEY Periodicals, Inc.
Hypotheses
and XY-specific epi-marks might also be
produced in stem cell lineages derived
from the inner cell mass of pre-implan-
tation blastocysts (the source of most
hESC lines) that give rise to both the
brain and gonad, e.g. the post-implan-
tation epiblast cells.
As an alternative to the use of
established hESC lines to test prediction
1, one could assay newly established
hESC lines while still at low passage
number, and hence with minimal adap-
tation to the cell culture environment.
As a second alternative, one could use
more committed fetal stem cell lineages
sampled from older fetuses that are
expected to share the same sex-specific
epi-marks transmitted to stem cell
lineages leading to both the gonad
and the brain. Amniotic stem cells that
are c-Kit positive (AFS-c-Kit
þ
cells that
have not been artificially induced to
increase potency) are a potential source
of such stem cells because they are
capable of differentiating into cell types
of all three embryonic germ layers, and
preliminary evidence indicates that they
can feasibly differentiate into both
neurons and glial cells [35, 36]. These
cells can also be obtained using the
minimally invasive procedure of amnio-
centesis. However, AFS-c-Kit
þ
cells
would ideally be collected from amniot-
ic fluid at a developmental stage prior to
the onset T secretion by the testes in
males, i.e. before week-8 of gestation.
Sampling amniotic fluid at such an early
developmental stage poses serious tech-
nical difficulties and may only be
feasible in the context of aspiration of
amniotic fluid from the intact amniotic
sac after a spontaneous abortion or
during hysterotomy. Despite this tech-
nical difficulty, AFS-c-Kit
þ
cells may be
a better window into the epi-marks
contained in early-embryo stem line-
ages leading to the brain compared to
hESC lineages derived from the pre-
implantation embryo and adapted to
the cell culture environment.
HS-associated epi-marks
To test prediction 2, comparisons of
candidate HS-inducing epi-marks must
be made between homosexual and
heterosexual individuals of the same
sex. Because the adult sexual orienta-
tion phenotype of hESCs (and AFS-c-
Kit
þ
cells) is unknown, a different,
adult-accessible, population of stem
cells must be assayed. Stem cells from
the brains of homosexual and hetero-
sexual individuals are feasible surro-
gates for screening the candidate HS-
inducing epi-marks of their progenitor
hESCs, but this approach would require
postmortem studies on properly pre-
served cadavers. Alternatively, hair
follicle stem cells (HFSCs, that have
not been artificially induced to increase
potency) of adults have the potential to
differentiate into cell types of all three
embryonic germ layers, including nerve
and glial cells (the main components of
the brain, reviewed in [37]). These stem
cells can be harvested from small,
minimally invasive skin samples and
represent a potential surrogate to sam-
pling stem cells from the brain. To be an
acceptable surrogate to hESCs (or brain
stem cells) from individuals of known
sexual orientation, the same candidate
HS-inducing epi-marks identified from
hESCs (or AFS-c-Kit
þ
cells) must also be
present in these adult stem cells (or at
Figure 2. Potential time points when epi-
marks can be produced in response to the
XX vs. XY karyotype and the presence of
high vs. low circulating androgens.
W. R. Rice et al. Insights & Perspectives .....
768 Bioessays 35: 764–770, ß 2013 The Authors. Bioessays published by WILEY Periodicals, Inc.
Hypotheses
least those candidate HS-inducing epi-
marks that are transmitted to brain stem
cells). If they are not, another surrogate
stem cell lineage must be found. If they
are, then profiles of the candidate HS-
inducing epi-marks can be compared
between homosexuals and heterosex-
uals of each sex to determine whether
or not they differ by the presence of
gonad-discordant epi-marks, i.e. those
found to be sex-discordant only or
predominantly in the homosexuals.
Sex-discordant candidate HS-inducing
epi-marks that are statistically signifi-
cantly associated with the HS pheno-
type would be classified as HS-
associated epi-marks and failure to find
such epi-marks would provide strong
evidence against our epigenetic HS
model. This HFSC-based protocol may
also be useful in testing for epigenetic
causes/associations of HS outside the
context of our specific model.
Concordance and discordance
in inherited epi-marks
between twins
Monozygotic twins containing at least
one HS individual could be used to test
prediction 3, assuming that prediction 2
has been previously confirmed. These
monozygotic twins are predicted to
share the same HS-associated epi-
mark(s) identified in an accessible
stem cell population (like HFSCs)
irrespective of the twin’s concordance
for HS.
If prediction 3 is confirmed, then
predictions 4 and 5 could be tested
together by checking to see if monozy-
gotic twins that are discordant for HS,
but share the same HS-associated epi-
mark, also differ substantially in the
strength of gonad-concordant epi-
marks that influence (i) the same gene
bearing the HS-associated epi-mark,
(ii) one of this gene’s regulators, like
an miRNA, or (iii) a gene interacting
with the one bearing the HS-associated
epi-mark that can modulate its influ-
ence on androgen signaling. If such a
discordance for an associated epi-mark
strength were found, with the weaker-
than average epi-mark in the HS twin,
then it would be classified as an HS-
facilitating epi-mark. Twins that are
concordant for HS are predicted to both
carry one or more HS-facilitating epi-
marks, and this concordance of epi-
marks would be absent in twins that are
discordant for HS. Inconveniently, the
predicted HS-facilitating epi-marks in
homosexuals might only be present in
the brain cells of sexually dimorphic
nuclei that influence sexual partner
preference. In this case, samples from
the corresponding brain tissue(s)
would be needed to be screened for
epi-marks requiring postmortem
analysis of brains from suitably pre-
served cadavers of known sexual orien-
tation. Prediction 4 could also be tested
in isolation, outside the context of
monozygotic twins, by screening to
see if HS individuals carrying an HS-
associated epi-mark are also enriched
for one or more weaker-than-average
epi-marks influencing directly or
indirectly the gene bearing the HS-
associated epi-mark(s) that they carry.
As we described in our original
paper, an alternative partial test of
our epigenetic HS model can be based
on epigenetic profiling of sperm from
fathers with and without HS daughters.
Due to the small sample sizes associated
with human families, ideal fathers
would be those who have female HS
relatives and multiple HS daughters vs.
those with no HS relatives nor daugh-
ters. Our model predicts that sperm
from the fathers with one or more HS
daughters will differ from those with
only heterosexual daughters by carrying
unique (or statistically differentiated)
epi-marks that influence the later stages
of the androgen signaling pathway of
the brain, or their expression is restrict-
ed to a subset of brain tissue, including
sexually dimorphic nuclei that influ-
ence sexual orientation. The same logic
could be applied to unfertilized eggs
from mothers with and without homo-
sexual sons, but sampling these eggs
would require considerably more effort.
Conclusions
Historical, social and religious norms
have interfered with a full appreciation
of the scope and diversity of the
homosexual phenotype in nature, as
well as research into its biological
underpinning. Recently, however, our
understanding of the neurobiology of
the homosexual phenotype has rapidly
expanded. Non-molecular pedigree and
twin studies initially led to the conclu-
sion that genetic polymorphisms
accounted for much of the variation in
sexual orientation observed within hu-
man populations. However, more recent
molecular genetic data provide only
limited support for this interpretation.
Epigenetics provides a feasible alterna-
tive to genetic polymorphism(s) as the
biological foundation for HS (and in
general, gonad-trait discordances that
have a familial association) and a
detailed epigenetic model has recently
been proposed. Current advances in
stem cell technology and the ability to
perform genome-wide epigenetic pro-
files on these cells provide a unique
opportunity to test models of epigenet-
ic-based HS.
Acknowledgments
This work was supported by the Nation-
al Institute for Mathematical and Bio-
logical Synthesis, sponsored by the
National Science Foundation, the U.S.
Department of Homeland Security, and
the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with
additional support from the University
of Tennessee, Knoxville and the Swed-
ish Foundation for Strategic Research.
The authors have declared no conflict of
interest.
References
1. Russell DGD, Sladen WJL, Ainley DG. 2012.
Dr. George Murray Levick (18761956):
unpublished notes on the sexual habits of
the Adelie penguin. Polar Rec 48: 38793.
2. Bagemihl B. 1999. Biological Exuberance:
Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity.
New York: St. Martin’s Press.
3. Sommer V, Vasey PL. 2006. Homosexual
Behaviour in Animals: An Evolutionary Per-
spective. New York: Cambridge University
Press.
4. Poiani A. 2010. Animal Homosexuality: A
Biosocial Perspective. New York: Cambridge
University Press.
5. MacFarlane GR, Blomberg SP, Vasey PL.
2010. Homosexual behaviour in birds: fre-
quency of expression is related to parental
care disparity between the sexes. Anim
Behav 80: 37590.
6. Hunt GL Jr, Hunt MW. 1977. Female-female
pairing in western gulls (Larus occidentalis)in
southern California. Science 196: 14667.
7. Young LC, Zaun BJ, VanderWerf EA. 2008.
Successful same-sex pairing in Laysan alba-
tross. Biol Lett 4: 3235.
8. Braithwait e LW. 1981. Ecological studies of
the black swan. 3. Behavioral and social
organization. Aust Wildlife Res 8: 135
46.
.....Insights & Perspectives W. R. Rice et al.
769
Bioessays 35: 764–770, ß 2013 The Authors. Bioessays published by WILEY Periodicals, Inc.
Hypotheses
9. Kotrschal K, Hemetsberger J, Weiss B.
2006. Making the best of a bad situation:
homosociality in male greylag geese. In
Homosexual Behaviour in Animals. An Evolu-
tionary Perspective. New York: Cambridge
University Press, 4576.
10. Ramagopalan SV, Dyment DA, Handun-
netthi L, Rice GP,etal. 2010. A genome-
wide scan of male sexual orientation. J Hum
Genet 55: 1312.
11. Bailey JM, Dun ne MP, Martin NG. 2000.
Genetic and environmental influences on
sexual orientation and its correlates in an
Australian twin sample. J Pers Soc Psychol
78: 52436.
12. Savic I, Lindstrom P. 2008. PET and MRI
show differences in cerebral asymmetry and
functional connectivity between homo- and
heterosexual subjects. Proc Natl Acad Sci
USA 105: 94038.
13. Swaab DF. 2008. Sexual orientation and its
basis in brain structure and function. Proc Natl
Acad Sci USA 105: 102734.
14. Savic I, Berglund H, Lindstrom P. 2005.
Brain response to putative pheromones in
homosexual men. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA
102: 735661.
15. Berglund H, Lindstrom P, Savic I. 2006.
Brain response to putative pheromones in
lesbian women. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 103:
826974.
16. Burke SM, Veltman DJ , Gerber J, Hummel
T,etal. 2012. Heterosexual men and women
both show a hypothalamic response to the
chemo-signal androstadienone. PLoS ONE 7:
e40993.
17. Roselli CE, Reddy RC, Kaufman KR.
2011. The development of male-oriented
behavior in rams. Front Neuroendocrinol 32:
1649.
18. Ngun TC, Ghahramani N, Sanchez FJ,
Bocklandt S,etal. 2011. The genetics of
sex differences in brain and behavior. Front
Neuroendocrinol 32: 22746.
19. Gavrilets S, Rice WR. 2006. Genetic models
of homosexuality: generating testable pre-
dictions. Proc R Soc B-Biol Sci 273: 30318.
20. Wisniewski AB, Kirk KD, Copeland KC.
2008. Long-term psychosexual development
in genetic males affected by disorders of sex
development (46, XY DSD) reared male or
female. Curr Pediatric Rev 4: 2439.
21. Hines M. 2011. Prenatal endocrine influences
on sexual orientation and on sexually differ-
entiated childhood behavior. Front Neuro-
endocrinol 32: 17082.
22. Franklin TB, Russig H, Weiss IC, Graff J,
et al. 2010. Epigenetic transmission of the
impact of early stress across generations. Biol
Psychiatry 68: 40815.
23. Morgan CP, Bale TL. 2011. Early prenatal
stress epigenetically programs dysmasculini-
zation in second-generation offspring via the
paternal lineage. J Neurosci 31: 1174855.
24. Thornton J, Zehr JL, Loose MD. 2009.
Effects of prenatal androgens on rhesus
monkeys: a model system to explore the
organizational hypothesis in primates. Horm
Behav 55: 63344.
25. Matsuda KI, Mori H, Kawata M. 2012.
Epigenetic mechanisms are involved in sexual
differentiation of the brain. Rev Endocr Metab
Disord 13: 16371.
26. Gardner DK, Larman MG, Thouas GA. 2010.
Sex-related physiology of the preimplantation
embryo. Mol Hum Reprod 16: 53947.
27. Bermejo-Alvarez P, Rizos D, Lonergan P,
Gutierrez-Adan A. 2011. Transcriptional sex-
ual dimorphism during preimplantation em-
bryo development and its consequences for
developmental competence and adult health
and disease. Reproduction 141: 56370.
28. Dewing P, Shi T, Horvath S, Vilain E. 2003.
Sexually dimorphic gene expression in mouse
brain precedes gonadal differentiation. Mol
Brain Res 118:8290.
29. Rice WR, Friberg U, Gavrilets S. 2012.
Homosexuality as a consequence of epige-
netically canalized sexual development. Q
Rev Biol 87: 34368.
30. Forest MG. 1985. Pitfalls in prenatal diagno-
sis of 21-hydroxylase deficiency by amniotic
fluid steroid analysis? A six years experience
in 102 pregnancies at risk. Ann NY Acad Sci
458: 13047.
31. Heemers HV, Tindall DJ. 2007. Androgen
receptor (AR) coregulators: a diversity of
functions converging on and regulating the
AR transcriptional complex. Endocr Rev 28:
778808.
32. Ollikainen M, Smith KR, Joo EJH, Ng HK,
et al. 2010. DNA methylation analysis of
multiple tissues from newborn twins reveals
both genetic and intrauterine components to
variation in the human neonatal epigenome.
Hum Mol Genet 19: 417688.
33. Arnold AP. 2012. The end of gonad-centric
sex determination in mammals. Trends Genet
28:5561.
34. Ben-Yosef D, Amit A, Malcov M , Frumkin T,
et al. 2011. Female sex bias in human
embryonic stem cell lines. Hum Reprod 26:
I348I9.
35. Rosner M, Mikula M, Preitschopf A, Feich-
tinger M,etal. 2012. Neurogenic differentia-
tion of amniotic fluid stem cells. Amino Acids
42: 15916.
36. Joo S, Ko IK, Atala A, Yoo JJ,etal. 2012.
Amniotic fluid-derived stem cells in regener-
ative medicine research. Arch Pharm Res 35:
27180.
37. Petit I, Kesner NS, Karry R, Robicsek O,
et al. 2012. Induced pluripotent stem cells
from hair follicles as a cellular model for
neurodevelopmental disorders. Stem Cell
Res 8: 13440.
W. R. Rice et al. Insights & Perspectives .....
770 Bioessays 35: 764–770, ß 2013 The Authors. Bioessays published by WILEY Periodicals, Inc.
Hypotheses
... In Tribolium castaneum, mating behaviors are observed directly (Levan et al., 2009). In rodent models, multiple behavioral paradigms including genital odor preference, bedding preference, olfactory learning, resident-intruder test, and mating choice assays have been developed to evaluate sexual orientation (Hines, 2011;Liu et al., 2011;Mandiyan et al., 2005;Paredes et al., 1998;Rice et al., 2013;Zhang et al., 2013). In Pteropus pselaphon, fellatio or erect penis-licking and allogrooming are measured (Sugita, 2016). ...
... Whether prenatal and postnatal environments contribute to sexual orientation has attracted considerable attention (Balter, 2015;Rice et al., 2012). Some evidence from animal studies indicates that environmental hormones can affect sexual behavior and partner preference via DNA methylation and histone modification (Crews et al., 2007;Rice et al., 2012Rice et al., , 2013Skinner et al., 2014;Walker and Gore, 2017). However, the effects of environmental factors on the sexual orientation of humans via epigenetic regulation remain poorly studied. ...
... In humans, however, studies regarding the role of epigenetic regulation in the effects of environmental factors on sexual orientation remain limited and primarily consist of mathematical modeling (Rice et al., 2013). For example, an abstract published by Vilain et al. at the 2015 American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) meeting and discussed in detail by Balter, 2015, reported the DNA methylation levels at 140,000 regions in 37 monozygotic male twins who were discordant for sexual orientation (one being homosexual and the other heterosexual) using the machine-learning algorithm FuzzyForest. ...
Article
Humans develop relatively stable attractions to sexual partners during maturation and present a spectrum of sexual orientation from homosexuality to heterosexuality encompassing varying degrees of bisexuality, with some individuals also displaying asexuality. Sexual orientation represents a basic life phenomenon for humans. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying these diverse traits of sexual orientation remain highly controversial. In this review, we systematically discuss recent advancements in sexual orientation research, including those related to measurements and associated brain regions. Current findings regarding sexual orientation modulation by hormonal, genetic, maternal immune system, and environmental factors are summarized in both human and model systems. We also emphasize that future studies should recognize the differences between males and females and pay more attention to minor traits and the epigenetic regulation of sexual orientation. A comprehensive view of sexual orientation may promote our understanding of the biological basis of sex, and that of human reproduction, and evolution.
... 8,11 ). Briefly, adaptive hypotheses (for example, kin selection, overdominance, intrasexual conflict, sexual antagonism) hold that SSB evolves due to indirect fitness benefits and assume that alleles or epigenetic marks coding directly or indirectly for SSB must be beneficial for them to arise and be maintained over evolutionary time 14,[17][18][19][20] . In contrast, non-adaptive or maladaptive hypotheses (for example, mistaken identity, prison effect, infection) consider SSB a 'fundamentally erroneous tactic' 16 and posit that they derive from either pleiotropic effects or constraints of other aspects of animals' biology 21 (reviewed in refs. ...
... While SSB is documented in hundreds of species across animals, our understanding of the prevalence of SSB both within and among animal species is incomplete largely due to three main biases that seem to be present in current discussions of SSB. First, many records of SSB come from incidental observations, and far more may have gone unreported because researchers either did not recognize behaviours or considered them shameful, unimportant or simply irrelevant to the studies they were conducting 12,20 (Box 1). Furthermore, SSB is often categorized as aggression, displays of dominance or social bonding and thus set apart from other sexual behaviours 12 . ...
Article
Full-text available
Same-sex sexual behaviour (SSB) has been recorded in over 1,500 animal species with a widespread distribution across most major clades. Evolutionary biologists have long sought to uncover the adaptive origins of ‘homosexual behaviour’ in an attempt to resolve this apparent Darwinian paradox: how has SSB repeatedly evolved and persisted despite its presumed fitness costs? This question implicitly assumes that ‘heterosexual’ or exclusive different-sex sexual behaviour (DSB) is the baseline condition for animals, from which SSB has evolved. We question the idea that SSB necessarily presents an evolutionary conundrum, and suggest that the literature includes unchecked assumptions regarding the costs, benefits and origins of SSB. Instead, we offer an alternative null hypothesis for the evolutionary origin of SSB that, through a subtle shift in perspective, moves away from the expectation that the origin and maintenance of SSB is a problem in need of a solution. We argue that the frequently implicit assumption of DSB as ancestral has not been rigorously examined, and instead hypothesize an ancestral condition of indiscrimi- nate sexual behaviours directed towards all sexes. By shifting the lens through which we study animal sexual behaviour, we can more fruitfully examine the evolutionary history of diverse sexual strategies.
... A similar scenario has been drawn for hypersexual (Absher, 2016), asexual (Prause and Harenski, 2014) and transsexual (Garcia-Falgueras and Swaab, 2008) individuals. At least some of these phenotypes are presumed to result from specific genetic architectures (e.g., Arnold and Chen, 2009;Ngun et al., 2011;Arnold, 2017), hormonal (e.g., Wilson et al., 1981;de Vries and Södersten, 2009;Hines, 2010;Olvera-Hernández and Fernández-Guasti, 2015) and epigenetic (Rice et al., 2013;McCarthy and Nugent, 2015;Nugent et al., 2015Nugent et al., , 2017Forger, 2016;Mosley et al., 2017;McCarthy, 2019) makeups, so they may be considered as endophenotypes (e.g., Rahman, 2005;Ponseti et al., 2006). ...
Article
Full-text available
Distinct manifestations of sexual behavior are conceived as separate phenotypes. Each sexual phenotype is assumed to be associated with a characteristic brain. These notions have justified the phenotyping of heterosexual copulator males based upon their ejaculation’s latencies (EL) or frequencies (i.e., cumulative ejaculation number; EN). For instance, men and male rats showing premature, normal or retarded ejaculation are assumed to be distinctive endophenotypes. This concept, nonetheless, contradicts past and recent evidence that supports that sexual behavior is highly variable within each sex, and that the brain sexual functional morphology represents an intricate sexual phenotypic mosaic. Hence, for ejaculatory male endophenotypes to be considered as a valid biological concept, it must show internal consistency at various levels of organization (including genetic architectures), after being challenged by intrinsic and/or extrinsic factors. We then judged the internal consistency of the presumed ejaculatory endophenotypes by assessing whether copulatory behavior and the expression of copulation relevant genes and brain limbic structures are specific to each of the presumed EL- or EN-ejaculatory endophenotypes. To do this, copulating male rats were first phenotyped in groups consistently displaying short, average or long ejaculation latencies or very high, high, average, low or very low EN, based in their copulatory performance. Then, the internal consistency of the presumed EL- or EN-endophenotypes was tested by introducing as covariates of phenotyping other copulatory parameters (e.g., number of intromissions) in addition to EL or EN, or by analyzing the expression levels of genes encoding for estrogen receptor alpha, progesterone receptor, androgen receptor, aromatase, DNA methyl-transferase 3a and DNA methyl-transferase 1 in the amygdala, medial preoptic area, ventromedial hypothalamus and olfactory bulb. We found that even though there were group-level differences in all the variables that were studied, these differences did not add-up to create the presumed EL- or EN-ejaculatory endophenotypes. In fact, the extensive overlapping of copulatory parameters and expression levels of copulation relevant genes in limbic structures across EL- or EN-phenotyped copulating male rats, is not consistent with the hypothesis that distinct ejaculatory endophenotypes exist and that they are associated with specific brain characteristics.
... Prior explanations for this relationship include primary pleiotropic genetic influences on the hypothalamus-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) and adrenal (HPA) axes with secondary influences on sexual orientation and risk for mental health problems (Zietsch et al., 2012). Unique environmental factors such as in utero hormonal fluctuations and epigenetic factors may also jointly influence sexual orientation (Bailey et al., 2016;Rice, Friberg, & Gavrilets, 2013) and risk for later psychopathology (Hiroi, Carbone, Zuloaga, Bimonte-Nelson, & Handa, 2016;Radtke et al., 2015). While the above are possible explanations, our findings indicate that the genetic and environmental relationships between sexual orientation and increased mental health adversity are mediated by a phenotypic causal relationship rather than common etiological influences. ...
Article
Full-text available
Increased risky sexual behavior in sexual minorities relative to heterosexual individuals may be partly explained by mental health disparities, and both factors may be further jointly influenced by common genetic and environmental factors. However, these relationships have not been previously investigated. The objectives of the present study were to investigate mental health disparities as a mediator of the relationship between sexual orientation and risky sexual behavior, controlling for genetic and environmental effects in this relationship and testing for sex differences. Participants included 5814 twins from a Finnish twin cohort. Specified latent factors included sexual orientation, mental health indicators, and risky sexual behavior. Twin models were fitted to the factor structure of the data whereby a Cholesky decomposition on the factors was compared to a mediation submodel using OpenMx. Sex differences were tested in the final model. Phenotypically, mental health disparities partially mediated the relationship between sexual orientation and increased risky sexual behavior, with comparable effects in males and females. However, while this indirect route from sexual orientation to risky sexual behavior mainly contained transmitted genetic effects in males, there was a significant proportion of transmitted shared environmental effects in females. This is the first study to demonstrate that the mediation relationships between sexual orientation, mental health disparities, and risky sexual behavior are not confounded by genetic and environmental factors. The significant sex differences need to be recognized in future research and intervention design to improve sexual health in sexual minorities.
Chapter
Full-text available
(GERMAN ABSTRACT): Das Themenfeld "Sexualität, Kirche und kirchliche Berufe" wird im Lauf der Geschichte der kirchlichen Professionsforschung unterschiedlich intensiv betrachtet. Die qualitativen Interviews in unserer Studie zeigen, dass vor allem das Thema Homosexualität in der Ausbildung von Seelsorgenden, besonders mit Blick auf die Priesterausbildung, eine essentielle Rolle spielt und daher besondere Beachtung verdient. Der hier vorliegende Artikel beinhaltet zwei Schwerpunkte. In einem ersten Teil zeigt der Beitrag den gegenwärtigen Erkenntnisstand der humanwissenschaftlich-epigenetischen Forschung zum Phänomen "Homosexualität" auf. In einem zweiten Teil werden die qualitativen Befunde aus den Interviews mit Blick auf die jeweilige Berufungsbiografie und mit Blick auf kirchliche Unterneh-menskultur, wie sie exemplarisch in der Ausbildungskultur sichtbar wird, darge-stellt und analysiert. (ENGLISCH ABSTRACT): The topic of "sexuality, church and pastoral/clergy professions" has been examined with varying degrees of intensity over the course of the history of pastoral profession research. The qualitative interviews in our study show that the topic of homosexuality plays an essential role in the training of pastoral workers, especially with regard to the training of priests, and therefore deserves special attention. This article has two main topics: First, the article shows the current state of knowledge of epigenetic research on the phenomenon of "homosexuality". In a second part, the qualitative findings from our interviews are presented and analyzed with a view to the respective biography of the vocation and to the corporate culture of the catholic church, as it is exemplarily visible in the training culture.
Preprint
Full-text available
The origin of eusociality, altruistically foregoing personal reproduction to help others, has been a long-standing paradox ever since Darwin. Most eusocial insects and rodents likely evolved from subsocial precursors, in which older offspring "helpers" contribute to the development of younger siblings without a permanent sterile caste. The driving mechanism for the transition from subsociality (with helpers) to eusociality (with lifelong sterile workers) remains an enigma because individuals in subsocial groups are subject to direct natural selection rather than kin selection. Our genomic imprinting theory demonstrates that natural selection generates eusociality in subsocial groups when parental reproductive capacity is linked to a delay in the sexual development of offspring due to sex-antagonistic action of transgenerational epigenetic marks. Focusing on termites, our theory provides the missing evolutionary link to explain the evolution of eusociality from their subsocial wood-feeding cockroach ancestors, and provides a novel framework for understanding the origin of eusociality.
Article
Same-sex partner preference between males has been observed in all species in which this behavior has been studied. Disruption of brain estradiol synthesis during development has been proposed as one of the biological causes underlying this behavior in some mammals. In support of this possibility, perinatal administration of aromatase inhibitors (such as letrozole) to male rat pups, induces around half of them to have same-sex preference and female sexual behavior in adulthood. Another putative factor that modifies sex preference is prenatal stress. Several stress protocols, applied to the pregnant dam, cause some of the adult male progeny to have an increased male preference, a decreased preference for the female, and lordosis behavior. Interestingly, these effects of stress might be mediated by its inhibitory action on brain aromatase. The aim of the present study was to analyze a possible interaction between these two factors in male rats. Pregnant dams were exposed to one of the four treatments across gestation days 10–22 (G10–G22): 1) vehicle-treated non-stressed controls; 2) letrozole (0.56µg/kg); 3) 30 min immobilization stress); 4) both letrozole and stress combined. The male offspring were tested in adulthood for partner preference in a three-chambered arena, where we also recorded the masculine and feminine sexual behaviors. One week later males were tested for masculine and feminine sexual behavior in cylindrical arenas where they interacted for 30 min with a receptive female and thereafter with a sexually active male for another 30 min. Letrozole, stress and their combination resulted in same-sex preference in 40, 31 and 50 % of males, respectively, compared to 5% in the control group. In the sexual behavior tests, prenatal stress reduced the percentage of males displaying intromissions and ejaculation (impaired masculinization), while letrozole mainly increased lordosis (impaired defeminization). The males prenatally submitted to stress and treated with letrozole presented these behavioral features but did not differ from both treatments given independently. The results indicate that the changes induced by stress or the aromatase inhibition produced by letrozole only accounts for a shift in partner preference in around half of the males and that there was no interaction between these two factors.
Article
Full-text available
Call to a new-Copernican revolution: Scientific conclusions about sexuality. The debate on same-sex relationships in the Dutch Reformed Church (NGK) reached an all-time low with some calling gay people pedophiles. In the light of recent events it is clear that the church is deeply divided with regard to beliefs regarding sexuality: some still maintain that a deviation from heterosexuality is a sin and would be punished by God. This research does not aim to contribute to the hermeneutical debate and reinterpretation of the so-called gay texts in the Bible, but rather seeks to explore the scientific research on sexuality. It is stipulated that sexuality is determined in utero and that the person has no control over it and that varied sexualities are merely unique characteristics of human beings. It is further argued that the church cannot keep ignoring the sciences, as the Catholic church did with regard to heliocentrism, and that a neo-Copernican revolution is indeed at hand. Intradisciplinary/interdisciplinary implications: This article looks at sexuality from a biological perspective and reaches the conclusion that sexuality is determined in utero, before birth. This challenges the traditional perspective that any non-heteronormative sexuality is a choice and hence sin in the eyes of God. This scientific approach strengthens newer hermeneutical interpretations of the so-called anti-gay texts in the Bible. The fields involved are biology and sexual ethics through the lens of critical qualitative research. The field of the traditional hermeneutics of sexuality is briefly mentioned, but the author does not endeavour to contribute to this field, but rather present the biological research as a challenging force to the more traditional approach.
Article
Reproductive division of labor is a hallmark of social insect societies where individuals follow different developmental pathways resulting in distinct morphological castes. There has been a long controversy over the factors determining caste fate of individuals in social insects. Increasing evidence in the last two decades for heritable influences on division of labor put an end to the assumption that social insect broods are fully totipotent and environmental factors alone determine castes. Nevertheless, the genes that underlie hereditary effects on division of labor have not been identified in any social insects. Studies investigating the hereditary effects on caste determination might have overlooked non‐genetic inheritance, while transmission to offspring of factors other than DNA sequences including epigenetic states can also affect offspring phenotype. Genomic imprinting is one of the most informative paradigms for understanding the consequences of interactions between the genome and the epigenome. Recent studies of genomic imprinting show that genes can be differentially marked in egg and sperm and inheritance of these epigenetic marks cause genes to be expressed in a parental‐origin‐specific manner in the offspring. By reviewing both the eusocial Hymenoptera and termites, I highlight the current theoretical and empirical evidence for genomic imprinting in eusocial insects and discuss how genomic imprinting acts in caste determination and social behavior and challenges for future studies. I also introduce the new idea that genomic imprinting plays an essential role in the origin of eusociality. Scheme of the genomic imprinting model for termite caste determination, which demonstrate incomplete erasure of sex‐specific epimarks in the germ line results in genomic imprinting influencing gene expression in the offspring. Genomic imprinting model clearly explains why the daughters carrying only maternal chromosomes have the developmental propensity to become neotenic queens rather than the daughters carrying both paternal and maternal chromosomes.
Article
Full-text available
A previously unpublished four-page pamphlet by Dr. George Murray Levick R.N. (1876–1956) on the ‘Sexual habits of the Adélie penguin’ was recently rediscovered at the Natural History Museum (NHM) at Tring. It was printed in 1915 but declined for publication with the official expedition reports. The account, based upon Levick's detailed field observations at Cape Adare (71°18′S, 170°09′E) during the course of the British Antarctic (Terra Nova) Expedition 1910, commented on frequency of sexual activity, autoerotic behaviour, and seemingly aberrant behaviour of young unpaired males and females including necrophilia, sexual coercion, sexual and physical abuse of chicks, non-procreative sex and homosexual behaviour. His observations were however accurate, valid and, with the benefit of hindsight, deserving of publication. Here we publish the pamphlet in its entirety, reinterpret selected observations and comment on its significance as a forgotten work by the pioneer of research on Adélie penguin Pygoscelis adeliae (Hombron and Jacquinot 1841) biology.
Article
Full-text available
This is a JAMA book review of the 1999 book by Bruce Bagemihl, Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity
Article
Full-text available
Male and female homosexuality have substantial prevalence in humans. Pedigree and twin studies indicate that homosexuality has substantial heritability in both sexes, yet concordance between identical twins is low and molecular studies have failed to find associated DNA makers. This paradoxical pattern calls for an explanation. We use published data on fetal androgen signaling and gene regulation via nongenetic changes in DNA packaging (epigenetics) to develop a new model for homosexuality. It is well established that fetal androgen signaling strongly influences sexual development. We show that an unappreciated feature of this process is reduced androgen sensitivity in XX fetuses and enhanced sensitivity in XY fetuses, and that this difference is most feasibly mused by numerous sex-specific epigenetic modifications ("epi-marks") originating in embryonic stem cells. These epi-marks buffer XX fetuses from masculinization due to excess fetal androgen exposure and similarly buffer XY fetuses from androgen underexposure. Extant data indicates that individual epi-marks influence some but not other sexually dimorphic traits, vary in strength across individuals, and are produced during ontogeny and erased between generations. Those that escape erasure will steer development of the sexual phenotypes they influence in a gonad-discordant direction in opposite sex offspring, mosaically feminizing XY offspring and masculinizing XX offspring. Such sex-specific epi-marks are sexually antagonistic (SA-epi-marks) because they canalize sexual development in the parent that produced them, but contribute to gonad-trait discordances in opposite-sex offspring when unerased. In this model, homosexuality occurs when stronger-than-average SA-epi-marks (influencing sexual preference) from an opposite-sex parent escape erasure and are then paired with a weaker-than-average de novo sex-specific epi-marks produced in opposite-sex offspring. Our model predicts that homosexuality is part of a wider phenomenon in which recently evolved androgen-influenced traits commonly display gonad-trait discordances at substantial frequency, and that the molecular feature underlying most homosexuality is not DNA polymorphism(s), but epi-marks that evolved to canalize sexual dimorphic development that sometimes carryover across generations and contribute to gonad-trait discordances in opposite-sex descendants.
Article
Full-text available
The odorous steroid compound 4,16-androstadien-3-one (androstadienone), found in axillary sweat, was previously reported to evoke hypothalamic activation in heterosexual women, but not in heterosexual men. However, subjects were exposed to the pure crystalline form of androstadienone, which raised the question whether the observed hypothalamic response is physiologically relevant. Therefore, in the present study, we asked whether sexually dimorphic hypothalamic responses could be measured when subjects were exposed to lower, more physiologically relevant concentrations of androstadienone. A total of 21 women and 16 men, all heterosexual, participated in our functional magnetic resonance imaging study (fMRI). Three different concentrations of androstadienone diluted in propylene glycol (10 mM "high," 0.1 mM "medium" and 0.001 mM "low") were delivered to the subjects' nostrils using a computer-controlled stimulator. When exposed to the "high" androstadienone concentration, women showed stronger hypothalamic activation than men. By contrast, men showed more hypothalamic activation when exposed to the "medium" androstadienone concentrations in comparison to women. Thus, we replicated that smelling the chemo-signal androstadienone elicits a hypothalamic activation. However, this effect does not seem to be gender-specific, because androstadienone activated the hypothalamus in both men and women, suggesting that androstadienone exerts specific effects in heterosexual individuals of both sexes.
Book
Biological Exuberance by Bruce Bagemihl. textlessPtextgreaterA Publishers Weekly Best BookOne of the New York Public... Bonus Publisher Materials: Excerpt, Praise, Author Biography, Awards
Article
Aspects of behaviour and social organization in the black swan are outlined and discussed. There is a high degree of flexibility and individualism in social relationships during breeding, which is considered to be of significance in the ecology of the species.
Article
The authors can conclude that we have not really experienced any pitfalls in the prenatal diagnosis of the congenital form of 21-OH deficiency based on steroid analysis. The question as to the risk for the fetus to have CAH has always been answered properly. The difficulties encountered in only 6 out of 102 prenatal diagnosis are accounted for by three different factors: incorrect HLA typing prediction in the first three, feasibility or not of the prenatal diagnosis of the late-onset form; and, in the last case, it was artificially introduced by treating the fetus in utero. Thus, the data presented here reemphasize that measurement of OHP levels in the amniotic fluid is a simple, rapid, and, above all, highly reliable and accurate method for the prenatal diagnosis of CAH due to 21-OH deficiency. By contrast, its value in the late-onset or attenuated forms of the disease remains to be established. Prenatal diagnosis of CAH due to 21-OH deficiency is no longer at the stage of attempts for research purpose. It is nowadays becoming a reliable diagnostic service. Constant quality control between the numerous partners involved-pediatricians (correct biological diagnosis and follow-up), obstetricians (expertise in amniotic puncture), biologists (high quality laboratory work), and genetic counselors (full and adequate information to the parents)-is, however, required to maintain safety and accuracy in this diagnosis.
Book
Homosexuality is an evolutionary paradox in search of a resolution, not a medical condition in search of a cure. Homosexual behaviour is common among social animals, and is mainly expressed within the context of a bisexual sexual orientation. Exclusive homosexuality is less common, but not unique to humans. The author invites the reader to embark on a journey through the evolutionary, biological, psychological and sociological aspects of homosexuality, seeking an understanding of both the proximate and evolutionary causes of homosexual behaviour and orientation in humans, other mammals and birds. The book also provides a synthesis of what we know about homosexuality into a biosocial model that links recent advances in reproductive skew theory and various selection mechanisms to produce a comprehensive framework that will be useful for anyone teaching or planning future research in this field.