Monday, October 17, 2005


The gay fungus of Vancouver Island

If the universe has any intrinsic significance, it's certainly hard to fathom. But some who delve in the Bible find some sort of teleological meaning in heterosexuality. They construct a moral syllogism that goes—

Heterosexuals exist to reproduce the species.
Reproducing the species is good (God-ordained, that is).
Therefore heterosexuals are good.

This leads to another argument: Homosexuals do not reproduce the species; not reproducing the species is bad; therefore homosexuals are bad (not God-ordained). This is frequently paired with the erroneous belief that homosexuality is a strictly human predilection and is therefore "unnatural."

Now a species of fungus is giving the lie to all this. It seems there's been some same-sex mating going on. Researchers at Duke University have been studying a strain of the fungus Cryptococcus gattii that has appeared on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The fungus is capable of attacking the central nervous system and can be acquired by a walk in the park. Through genetic analysis the researchers believe this strain may have arisen by the mating of same-sex pairs.

Now before visions of microgenitalia begin to dance in your head, I'll let the press release explain

In plants and animals, sexual identity is governed by sex chromosomes.... In fungi, however, sexual identity is determined by so-called "mating type loci," genes arranged contiguously, but which typically do not span an entire chromosome. Cryptococcus exists in two mating types, "a" and "alpha," determined by a single genetic region, or locus.

Earlier studies by the Duke team found that most Vancouver Island outbreak isolates are sexually fertile, but all are of one "sex," a trend that would seem to preclude the normal sexual cycle.

"Sex within the same mating-type may confer an evolutionary advantage when the opposite mating type is unavailable," Heitman [one of the researchers] said. "Other human pathogens or parasites may harbor cryptic same-sex cycles that contribute to produce progeny with altered virulence, geographic or host range or other advantageous characteristics."

This fungus is normally found only in the tropics and subtropics, suggesting that Canadian attitudes of sexual tolerance may have played a role.

10/28/05 - Correction. "New Brunswick" changed to "British Columbia."

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