Thursday 30 April 2015

Total Eclipse

A wandering troop of minstrels

It was announced today that the forthcoming total eclipse of the sun will achieve totality exclusively in the picturesque Metropolitan Spa town of Dudley. Scientists, pick pockets and wandering minstrels are expected to flood into this delightful West Midlands town to view and take advantage of this once in a lifetime event.

Professor Dumbarse Mugumbo, of the Astrology Department, University of Dudley, had this to say: “The total eclipse of the sun is generally associated with dire calamities and devastation of biblical proportions. I prophesise, that in this instance, a giant Hippo will devour the sun in bite size pieces. The good burghers/buggers of Dudley are well advised to beat kettle drums to drive away the giant and errant Hippo. I’m hoping the wandering minstrels will join in the fray as they are suitably endowed with the relevant instrumentation. Otherwise, we are all doomed, DOOMED I tell ye”!

Mr Eric Uptohisarseinshit, Head Keeper of the Hippo enclosure at Dudley Zoo, pontificated sagely: “We are keeping a wary eye on all our Hippos, especially ‘Naughty George’. He has a history of escaping and gallivanting down Dudley High Street, incapacitating kettle drum banging minstrels- Arse. We are also keeping an eye on Shagger, the ferret, just in case".

Naughty George under close supervision

Shagger, the ferret, was unavailable for comment (Go Shagger!).

Mr Khan, formerly the owner of ‘Mr Khan’s Cheap Shit Emporium’, has in commemoration of this wondrous occasion changed the name of his store to: ‘The Hungry Hippo’.

Shagger contemplating the apoca-eclipse 

Wednesday 29 April 2015

Oops me heads fallen orff, missus!

Your future perhaps? Not mine.

In Mary Shelley's book 'Frankenstein', Dr Frankenstein (for it is he) created a patchwork monster by sewing together various parts from human cadavers. As I recall the monster was animated by a burst of electricity. For those of pedantic disposition: the monster was never called 'Frankenstein'. As a point of fact, the abomination was called, Nigel; I've digressed.

Today, modern medical surgeons can transplant most organs of the body with varying degrees of success. However, one body part remains firmly fixed- the head. To date, no one has tried to transplant the head from one individual to another. Although it is true a few Islamic extremists have managed to master the first part of the procedure. From a technical perspective, the successful transfer of a head from a donor body to a recipient body is plagued with apparent insurmountable biological and surgical problems. More of this later. Consequently, the medical world has reacted with disbelief and astonishment to a recent announcement by an Italian neurosurgeon, Dr Sergio Mugumbo (sorry, that should read Dr Cavaero ), in which he stated that human head transplants will be possible within the next 24 months. Also, he is personally willing to lead an extensive team of surgeons, technicians and nurses in performing the first 'head transplant'. To be fair, the procedure is strictly a body transplant, but 'head transplant' grabs headlines and therefore beloved and preferred by science journalists.

Removing a head from a dead person and reattaching it to a live person is technically  demanding, especially as you want the recipient to continue to remain a live person. First, you must obtain a suitable donor. A team of doctors need to be present at the time of death. It requires a special type of person to tolerate, and be surrounded by, a team of 'grave diggers'. One hopes that a coma intervenes/supervenes. At the time of death,  hypothermia will be required to maintain biological integrity. And this needs to be done with astonishing alacrity. Hopefully, the cells will be maintained and kept vital over the extended time demanded by the procedure. Some form of artificial circulation is a must and oxygenation is desirable. It is estimated that a team of 150 will be necessary and the surgery will take about 36 hours to complete. The recipient body will need to be similarly treated and the core temperature should be maintained at 12 degrees C. The brain is a sensitive organ and four minutes without oxygen, at body temperature, will result in irreversible brain damage. Reattaching the head is no mean feat (no shit). The relatively easy part will be the connection of the musculature and blood vessels. The major challenge will be the splicing of the donor and recipient spinal cord. In order to stimulate inter-neural connections, chemical or electrical treatment is contemplated.  Without nerve connectivity the patient will remain a tetraplegic. The patient will be placed in an induced coma for at least 4 weeks. This is essential to ensure the cord knits and the head is not subject to disruptive movements. Twitching and convolutions/convulsions are not to be allowed.

Even if the operation is successful and the patient regains motor function to the limbs, grave complications remain. Rejection of the head, mediated by the immune system of the donor, and vice versa, is almost certain unless the patient undergoes constant and lifelong immunosuppressive therapy. This is not a perfect solution and organ damage may still result. As the organ in question is the brain, brain damage and loss of intellectual function is a real possibility.

Who would benefit? Believe it or not, quite a few patients have volunteered for the procedure. Out of the hundreds of applicants, a Russian, Valery Spiridonov has been given the dubious honour of being the first, potential, head transplant patient. Valery suffers from a rare and ultimate fatal muscle wasting disease and suspects he has no other option to extend his life.

Is it really possible? Most neurosurgeons consider the procedure beyond contemporary medical and surgical competence and envisage success to be virtually nonexistent. There are also concerns about Dr Cavaero's motivation for performing such a dangerous and controversial procedure. Many doubt that this is about advancing medical science but more about gaining fame and notoriety for the surgeon. Surely, if it is possible to perform head transplants with all its attendant difficulties, then repair of existing spinal lesions without removing the head should be eminently possible? Although patients with extensive cancer and body wasting diseases would remain legitimate candidates, perhaps? It is highly doubtful that any medical ethics committee in the West would countenance such a procedure. This does not deter Dr Cavaero. He is more than willing to perform the procedure in a country where ethical considerations are not a concern (China). And then there is the cost. It is estimated that the procedure, in total, will cost at least US$10,000,000. This raises the pertinent question: who will really benefit?  The good doctor does not conceal his ultimate objective- he wants to produce an immortal. Imagine your body exchanged for a younger model every 20 years, or so; interesting, no doubt. But surely the head, and especially the brain, will eventually degenerate unless the brain cells are continually rejuvenated? Perhaps a technology available for the usual suspects: rich, old, white men?  A brave new world indeed. I’m hoping that I’ll be dead before this transpires.          

The first bit is always easy.

Saturday 25 April 2015

Wots wrong with the yoof of today.......

Dudley Town Centre in times of yore

Dudley is a town in crisis. Every Saturday night the town centre is deserted. Bereft of revellers as the youth of the town stay firmly at home, pressing digits, with their digits, on their latest iphone. Gone are the days when drunken revellers lurched precariously between bars and night spots consuming vast quantities of cheap liquor. What has happened to the streams of bright urine cascading their way from shop to pavement? Half eaten kebabs used to mingle and dally with the blood and dog shit. Inappropriately attired 'young ladies' teetered alarmingly on impossibly high heels screeching discordant and resonating exhortations. What has happened to the lads in tee shirts supping unerringly from cans of 'Special Brew' and knocking seven shades of shit out of each other? Gone are those happy days.

At a specially convened crisis meeting at 'Dudley Town Hall', the incumbent Mayor, Mr Eli MacVowel (no relation), vocalised profusely: "It is time for our inebriated youth to reclaim the Town Centre. The late teenage and early 20s are the most informative times of their lives. If they remain sober how are they to experience the delights of ending up comatose in the gutter or waking up next to a complete stranger. Where will be their vast repertoire of 'off colour' anecdotes. In response to this problem I have vowed to go on a two month, all expense paid, fact finding mission to the south of France. Aiding me in this important work will be the resident concubine and nurse, Miss Flappy Old-Trout".    
Nurse Flappy: woof, bloody woof

A life long Dudley resident, Mrs Edna Mugumbo, interpolated: "I despair of our teenagers, I really do. In my day we used to be pissed from noon until 3 O'clock in the morning, rampaging through the streets and abusing passerby's with the chirpy refrain, 'Eh you, yes you with the big fat arrrse' (arse)! But these days I am confronted with sober youths, singularly or in pairs, bidding me, 'good evening, maaaam".

Mr Khan, of Mr Khan's 'Cheap Liquor Emporium', echoed similar sentiments: "It's a fickin disaster, innit. I've got hundreds of crates of alcopops and white cider sitting on my shelves. All the teenagers want these days is detofuinated tofu flavoured spa water".       

One of the culprits of this despicable and reprehensible behaviour, Mr Studious Mugumbo, had this to say: "I really don't have time to drink alcohol. I've got my mid-semester exams in a week and I've still got to complete my seminal essay: 'The impact of the British Empiricists on contemporary thought with special emphasis on David Hume'.  Also, alcohol impairs both logical and non-linear thought processes".                  

The world is doomed..........

Those bygone halcyon days

Anzac Day: Gallipoli 100 years on

The men who fought

On Saturday, the 25th April 1915, British, Australian and New Zealand troops landed on the Gallipoli peninsular, in Turkey. This Saturday is also ANZAC day, a solemn remembrance of the Australian and New Zealand troops who gave their lives in two world wars and represents the Australasian equivalent to the 'Armistice Day' commemorations held in Britain every 11th of November. Tomorrow, many thousands will cluster around cenotaphs and memorials throughout Australia and New Zealand to honour those who fought and those who fought and died. Inevitably, there will be a focus upon the Gallipoli battles as the day will be the 100th anniversary of the landings.

The Gallipoli campaign was conceived as a means of knocking the despised Turk out of the war. Politicians and even a few generals, who should have known better, thought they could win the war on the cheap. The Germans were unassailable on the Western Front so why not have a go at their weaker ally? It had an appeal, of course, but as a side show it held little strategic merit. Even if successful it would advance the Allied war plans by not a jot. The only way the war could be won was by beating the Germans. And for the Western Allies this meant defeating the Germans on the Western Front. Side shows like Gallipoli squandered resources better applied elsewhere.

Gallipoli was an outstandingly ill conceived and poorly executed campaign in a war not particularly renowned for well considered operations. Originally, the Gallipoli campaign was to be a purely naval venture. Elements of the British fleet bombarded strong points at the Dardanelles on the 19th February 1915. British marines landed and roamed at will; there was little resistance. But the British were dilatory and the operation took on the aspect of a leisurely jaunt of farcical proportions. At this stage it was decided that an army should be sent after all. The general tasked with this great enterprise was General Hamilton. General Hamilton was not chosen because he was a great military leader, but because he was next general on the list and due to go; everything was to be muddled through.

After thoroughly rousing the Turk the British did nothing for two months. In the meantime the Turks attended to their defences and rushed in troops. On the 25th April Allied troops finally landed only to find positions, which two months earlier were unmanned, now impassable. The Turks held the surrounding hills and the Allies could make no progress; and so they dug trenches. The campaign became a microcosm of the Western Front, except for the heat, flies, disease and of course, the Turks. The army could not advance and were under constant withering shell fire. All supplies had to be landed at night. Often the opposing trenches were only several yards from each other and easy assailed by grenade of which the Allies improvised from old cocoa tins.

At the campaign's climax, 13 British and Commonwealth divisions scrabbled over rocky terrain. Soon it became apparent, even to the most dullard politician and general, that nothing great could be achieved here. Reluctantly, the decision was made to withdraw. During late December 1915 and early January 1916, all troops were withdrawn. The evacuation was a stunning success although a great deal of stores remained for the Turks to pillage.

The Australians and New Zealanders have always viewed the Gallipoli campaign as peculiarly their own battle although most of the troops committed were British. Their experience helped to forge separate national identities, and I think, rightly so. No longer did they see themselves as British cousins overseas, but as separate, well defined nations. Of course, this national awareness would have come eventually, but the battle experience accelerated the process as Australian and New Zealanders came to appreciate their own worth as men and as a nation.
As for the butcher's bill: Of the 480,000 Allied troops committed, 250,000 became causalities and of these, 46,000 were killed. Of  those killed, 2779 were New Zealanders and 8,709 were Australians.

It is a time of solemn reflection and quiet contemplation of the great men who fought and died in war. It is not a time to glorify war. The only thing glorious about war is the men.

Tuesday 21 April 2015

Jesus of Tipton

Prof Mugumbo contemplating tenure
Further evidence has been obtained supporting the proposition that Jesus of Nazareth visited Tipton during the years between the Gospels. By closely scrutinising Nostradamus' opaque quatrains, Professor Gullible Mugumbo of 'Tipton University of Difficult Shit and Stuff', is convinced that our Lord visited Tipton accompanied by Mary Madeleine during the 10th century AD. Furthermore, collaboratory (not a real word) evidence suggests that Jesus spent time at the court of the mad Saxon King of Tipton, 'Flaxen the Ferret'. The pertinent quatrains read thusly:   

When the land of the Saxons is ruled by the son of 'Harold the Addled',
A great star will become ascendant over Mr Khan's Emporium of Shoddy Goods'.
Then a man, if he be a man, shall tarry in the mad King's Garth,
And there shop mightily at Mr Khan's expansive/inexpensive (plastic Buddha's, 10 for a quid), boutique.

And there Jesus (for it is he) will preach on Dudley Mount,
And teach of the wondrous goods to be purchased in Mr Khan's shop.
Verily he will bugger off to the Holy land,
Where upon alighting, he shall be nailed to a piece of wood whilst praising Mr Khan's very reasonable prices- sale on this Sunday, 50% of all pieces of the 'true cross'.

"Surely this represents incontrovertible proof that Jesus sojourned in 'Dark Age' Tipton", spaketh Professor Mugumbo.

However, sceptics remain among the good citizens of Tipton. Mr Enoch Vowel, the incumbent Mayor of Tipton, riposted accordingly: "There is no doubt in my mind that this constitutes an intricate and elaborate fraud perpetrated/perpetuated by none other than Mr Khan, he of Emporium fame, and is simply a tawdry attempt to bolster his ailing and decrepit business. Anyone can see that the quoted quatrains have been interpolated into Professor Mugumbos' copy of Nostradamus' 'Les Propheties', in crayon.

On hearing Mr Vowel's stark revelation, Professor Mugumbo remained unrepentant: "I will continue my valuable research under the auspices and endowment supplied by the 'Khan Foundation' ".

Uncharacteristically, Mrs Lardarse Mugumbo was unavailable for comment.  

Mrs Lardaaaaaaarrrrrrssse Mugumbo (Arse)

Sunday 19 April 2015

The Periodic Table Revisted

Reason: A sharp instrument wielded with force and aplomb to cut through pseudoscience, faith, irrational bollocks and homeopathy

Friday 17 April 2015

The Protocol of Prion

Good advice from Mrs Mugumbo

I wrote about viruses recently. One controversy which is hotly debated is whether viruses constitute life. I suspect the debate will continue for a while and the issue may never be resolved to the satisfaction of all. Life is never simple or easily classified. There is one thing biologists do have consensus about: proteins are not alive. They are part of life. They are the structural building blocks of cells and as enzymes control the rate of biochemical processes within cells. Consequently, they alone, would not be expected to cause disease unless their structure had changed due to a precursor gene mutation. But in the last 50 years biologists have had to rethink a few central tenets of biology due to proteins called, prions.  

In the 1950's a doctor working amongst a tribe in New Guinea observed a strange and lethal disease in the people. The Fore people called the disease kuru, which roughly translates as 'stumbling and scared'. Victims of the disease lost weight, the ability to walk, talk, and eventually died.  The tribe indulged in a tradition of eating the brains of the dead as a ritual. No accounting for taste, I suppose. And I suspect a fine Chianti was never on the menu. I've digressed. Anyway, it transpires that the tribe folk contracted a disease from eating dead human brains. Who would have thought that eating dead people was bad for you? Astonishing, I know.  But what piqued the interest of the medical world was that there didn't seem to be a disease agent at work. The usual suspects, bacteria and viruses were not involved.

The culprit turned out to be a protein and a self replicating protein at that. This may not seem particularly special to a none biologist, but it has grave implications to a fundamental proposition in biology: 'The Central Dogma Theory'. I am not keen on the word 'dogma' as it implies a stolid closed intellectual door. Dogma should not be part of any scientific proposition, or anything else for that matter. The central dogma theory states: Only nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) replicate and specify information. Proteins shouldn't be able to replicate or transfer information without an intermediary nucleic acid stage. This was the perceived scientific wisdom until prion disease burst onto the medical stage.

Prions are abnormally shaped proteins with an uncanny ability to convert other proteins to their peculiar tortured shape. They act as a template and actively change the shape of other proteins into their own rogue configuration. Once set in motion a cascade effect ensues; good proteins gone bad. When they multiply to extreme the disease process kicks in. The abnormal proteins adhere to each other forming an ever growing lattice structure which deposits in the brain and other tissue. The immune system detects something amiss and directs cells to mop up the 'strange proteins'. However, in the process they also destroy healthy brain cells as well as the diseased. Thus we end up with the typical histology report: 'A brain with holes': a lack of neurones is never good news. The disease process is relentless and ultimately fatal in every case. There is no cure or ameliorating treatment and the eventual conclusion is a lingering unpleasant death.  

Most cases are sporadic without an obvious initiating event. Other cases are acquired from previously infected individuals. Unlike other disease agents, prions are extraordinarily resistant to destruction. Normal sterilisation procedures by heat and chemical treatment leave the protein untouched and consequently, infectious. Luckily, the disease is not easy to catch. Most none-sporadic infections are caused by medical procedures such as transfusions and contaminated surgical instruments. Eating contaminated tissue is also a route for infection.    

There are several diseases in animals and humans associated with prions however, the incidence of prion disease is rare in humans, something in the order of one in a million individuals. You may recall the 'mad cow' disease scare in the UK during the 1980's. Cattle are also prone to prion disease and exhibit a condition called bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), more popularly and quaintly known as 'mad cow disease'. A medical scare occurred in the UK during the 1980's when at least 180,000 cattle became infected. In total, 4,400,000 cattle were slaughtered causing immense economic harm. The cause of the disease was found to be due to meat products being included in the cow's normally herbivorous diet. Meat from sheep infected with a prion disease called 'scrapie' was thought to be the likely culprit. The disease can be transmitted to humans through the ingestion of infected brain, offal and spinal cord. In humans the prion causes new variant Creutzfelds Jacob disease. At the time there was a grave fear that there would be a human epidemic of the disease ultimately killing many thousands. As is now known the problem was overstated and to date only 177 people in UK have died due to the condition even though many thousands of infected cows entered the human food chain before controls came into operation.

The UK situation was extreme and therefore the response, extreme. It is difficult 30 years on to appreciate the hysterical response to the risk of a truly nightmarish disease. Medical authorities were predicting a Zombie apocalypse (get a grip Flaxen). So let us learn from the past and follow these simple, but profound, precepts:

  • Stop eating the brains of dead people; always sound advice
  • Stop eating offal (faggots excepted)
  • Stop eating nasty foreign food- and if you do, make sure you expose it to greater than 600 degree Celsius for at least 10 hours
  • Don’t date women of dubious moral standards. Not wholly relevant, I know, but sound advice nonetheless     

Again, not relevant at all. Aaaaaaaaaarse

Wednesday 15 April 2015

Free faggots and peas!

'Nipper' of the Yard

Controversy has erupted again in the sleepy hamlet of Tipton. In the run-up to the hotly contested ballot to elect the Mayor of Tipton, there have been claims of blatant ‘bleating’ by the incumbent Mayor, Mr Enoch Vowel. The accused, rival candidate, Mr Sausage Roll (for it is he), has been caught distributing free ‘faggots and peas’ to the local orphanage in flagrant violation of political ordinance 290-5765, to wit: ‘Tis an offence under the Electoral Governance Rule to distribute sweetmeats to those in dire need of sustenance and succour’.

Chief Inspector, ‘Nipper of the Yard’, Mugumbo, pontificated waxily: “We at the Yard take this sort of thing very seriously. I have been working with my father in law, Mr Vowel, on this blatant infraction of the electoral code. Be assured, the full weight of the law will descend upon Mr Roll like a lead truncheon with a nail through the end".

Mr Roll reposted: “It is a good thing they didn’t find out about the £100,000 I ‘gifted’ to the Returning Officer to rig the election. Arse". 

Friday 10 April 2015

Meet Ed, the 'Intelligent Horse'

'The fall of Tipton'

'Ed the Nag' demonstrated his uncanny talent at Tipton Park last Sunday. As you all will recall, Ed 
Equus, was trained/engrained from an early stage to perform easy repetitive tasks and arithmetic with the aid of a cattle prod up his capacious rectum. Thus suitably imbued he would answer mundane mathematical conundrums with a simple pawing of the dirt. For instance, if a bystander asked: "What is the summation of 2 + 2", Ed after a suitably long pause, would galvanise into inaction and eventually 'tap' with his hooves until the correct answer was achieved, just as the cattle prod was removed. However, on that fateful day, his knack to summate went awry. When asked to formulate, 7 x 6, he faltered and tapped out 12. Some say the batteries in the cattle prod had eventually relinquished life. Others state, with some justification, that Ed's ARSE was always the mediator of his meagre talent, cattle prod or no. Perhaps the prod stirred enough shit to effuse/ooze and stimulate a knee jerk response. Regardless, an Ed without a knack is off to the knackers yard to have his testicles removed by his keeper, Ed Moribund (no relation), henceforth, to be known, as 'Ed no Balls'.     

Shagger on graduation- no prod visible

Thursday 9 April 2015

The Divinity in our midst/pissed

Mr Vowel prior to medication

Shock announcement from the Tipton municipal city council, today! The incumbent Mayor, Mr Enoch Vowel, at an impromptu mass meeting, attended by local dignities and press declaimed thusly: "It is time to declare my Divinity. You are privileged at this momentous time in history to be part of a glorious and expensive beginning"

When asked by one of his acolytes, Miss Fanny Akimbo, when had he first realised that he had metamorphosed into a god, he countered in a beatific manner and all those present did attest to the ethereal glow which attended his sanctified countenance. "I became aware of my transformation after consuming two bottles of gin and a magnum of champagne. Afterward, I commenced the transmogrification process which culminated in full divinity during an interlude of supine/sublime stupefaction. My Divine presence will not be cheap to maintain and, by decree, a tithe of 10% will be enacted upon all citizens of Tipton town, forthwith. Furthermore, I shall surround myself with nubile female nymphets who will attend to my remorseless spiritual and carnal appetites".  

Fanny attending to the Divine

Later that day Mr Vowel was incarcerated in the Tipton 'Bide a Wee Home' for deluded and bewildered politicians. The five hundred bed facility is currently full.

Mrs Dildo Mugumbo, a lifetime Tipton resident, when pressed against a wall, gasped:  "It comes as no surprise as I've always thought Mr Vowel to be a bit of a cult". 

Mrs Mugumbo gasping against the wall


Wednesday 8 April 2015

Homosexuality: The Evolutionary Paradox

As the astute have noticed, I tend to intersperse a sensible post amongst the insanity. This is such an occasion..........   

Unfortunately, this post is a little long as it is not possible to make something complex, simple, just comprehensible.  

I confess I’m fan of evolutionary theory; tis an elegant theory which explains so much in biology. In fact, I would argue that modern biological thought would be meaningless without a contemplation of the evolutionary process. Dissenters are quick to point out the ‘hard questions’ which need to be addressed. There is nothing wrong with that. Any successful theory should be able to provide answers to the topic it relates to, otherwise it requires modification or should be discarded for a theory best able to explain this illusion we call reality.

A common question I'm asked is: How is homosexuality maintained in the population when evolutionary pressure would be expected to remove the trait from the gene pool? The idea being that in comparison to heterosexuals, homosexuals would leave behind less offspring. Therefore, over the generations homosexuality would be expected to die out. As this has not occurred then surely, evolution through natural selection, is not occurring and, therefore, the theory is in dire jeopardy. Those who oppose evolution, usually on the basis of religious dogma, are quick to point out this so called ‘insurmountable problem’ for evolution. This is a form of specious reasoning called: ‘reasoning from personal incredulity’. Just because you can't conceive of an explanation does not necessarily mean an explanation is unavailable.     

Before launching into the topic in earnest, I would just like to say a few words about what this post is not about. I’ll not be discussing any other aspect of homosexuality. Homosexuality will not be considered within the framework of morality, religious or otherwise, or in any other context not relating to cold, hard, biological science. These other aspects are worthy of discussion and debate, but they hold no interest for me here.

First off, before deciding whether evolution is on the ‘ropes’, it is a good idea to establish if there is a problem to answer. The problem would only exist if it could be demonstrated that homosexuality is in some way determined by genetics. It is conceivable that homosexuality is wholly determined by the environment. When I say environment, in this context, I mean the foetal environment. Therefore, for instance, a spike in a maternal hormone during a critical stage in the development of the embryonic brain may cause changes which result in sexual attraction to the same sex. I mention this as a hypothesis, as far as I am aware there is no evidence that this actually occurs, in humans at least. I propose it as a hypothetical, but plausible scenario. If homosexuality could be shown to be caused by environmental conditioning, without genetic input, then evolution does not have a case to answer.

The best way to see if a complex behavioural trait has a genetic component is to look at identical twins. Identical twins are genetically identical and therefore, ideal for looking at possible genetic influences. To summarise: The data suggest that if one identical twin is homosexual then the other twin has a higher chance of being homosexual than would be expected in comparison to the general population. This is strong evidence for a genetic component in at least ‘certain forms’ of homosexuality. Of course, it is probably naive to expect a single ‘homosexual gene’ to be the cause. It is conceivable that a number of genes are involved and this does not rule out the possibility of an environmental influence. In other words, the real life situation is likely to be biologically complex.   

Several models have been proposed to explain how the trait of homosexuality could be maintained in a population. I’ll consider only one explanation. This is probably the simplest model to contemplate. I mention it as an illustration. Frankly, I do not think homosexuality is determined in this manner, but it will illuminate the general principle I’m trying to convey.

The overdominance model requires just a single gene to determine homosexuality. In this scenario, parents would carry a copy of the homosexual gene but also a copy of a corresponding heterosexual gene. It is to be remembered that genetic traits have two genes- each one inherited from each parent. Because the ‘heterosexual’ gene is dominant it overrides the effect of the ‘homosexual’ gene in the parents, thus both parents are heterosexual. For our purposes, I’ll use the notation: Homosexual gene= HOM, and the Heterosexual gene= HET. Therefore, both parents can be represented as: HET/HOM. In the offspring, there are three genetic possibilities:


Of these three possibilities, HOM/HOM would be the only case which would confer homosexuality simply because there is no dominant HET gene. The HOM/HOM possibility would be expected to occur, in theory, in 25% of the offspring.  

You may well ask how the HOM gene could be maintained as recipients of HOM/HOM would be expected to have reduced reproductive fitness and hence the HOM gene would eventually be eliminated from the population. The gene could only be maintained if the HET/HOM genetic configuration conferred some form of selective benefit. Remember, individuals with this genetic configuration would be heterosexual but would be carriers of the trait for homosexuality. Let us hypothesise that HET/HOM individuals, on average, tend to have more children than all other combinations. It seems obvious that individuals with HOM/HOM would have fewer children. But why should HET/HOM confer an advantage over HET/HET? Here we can let our imaginations run riot. You may contend that this model seems a little strained however, we do know that an analogous genetic situation occurs. 

Sickle cell anaemia is a disease of Africa, Asia and the Mediterranean lands. It is a genetic abnormality which causes red blood cells to form an abnormal shape. Individuals with the condition have a reduced capacity to carry oxygen and the abnormal red blood cells accumulate in blood vessels causing blockage, pain and organ damage. Individuals with sickle cell anaemia have severe medical problems and have a lowered life expectancy. Their reproductive fitness is reduced in comparison to individuals without the disease. Like the scenario previously outlined, two disease genes are required which are inherited from carrier parents. Both parents carry the trait but are not afflicted with the condition. Interestingly, the bad gene occurs at a relatively high frequency in these populations. As it confers disease when inherited in a double dose it would be expected to be rapidly eliminated from the population. This is particularly important when we consider that effective treatments to alleviate symptoms have only become available in relatively recent times. Therefore, for instance, selection against the trait would have been particularly strong a 100 years ago. This has not happened and suggests that sickle cell anaemia is being maintained in populations by positive selection. It turns out that carriers of the condition are protected from malaria. Malaria is endemic in the regions where sickle cell trait occurs. It is estimated that one million people die each year from malaria. Thus having a degree of protection from malaria is an advantage and increases the reproductive fitness of those individuals who carry the sickle cell trait over those who do not. In this manner, a disease gene is maintained in the population.  

As I mentioned previously, there are other models with regard to homosexuality which attempt to explain the 'evolutionary paradox'. They rely on a multi-gene approach and are subtle and invariably more complex than the simple model outlined above. Suffice it to say, biologists are not stumped for hypothesises and explanations. In fact, this can be extended to other areas of biology which have been seen, usually by none biologists with an agenda, as difficult for evolutionary theory to explain. Again, theories abound and in many cases solid evidence is readily available.

Evolution is not a problem for biology, but has remained for the last 150 years, its ultimate solution.  


Friday 3 April 2015

Arthur Askey: The days of mobility

Ferret on a skateboard

As my gentle reader will recall, Arthur had become incapacitated due to an unerring series of freak and increasingly bizarre accidents. As 'Big hearted' Arthur lay on his hospital bed waiting to be wheeled to undergo an operation, which if successful, would restore mobility to his vastly truncated torso, he contemplated the vicissitudes and inherent futility of life. ARSE.

The operation was to be performed by internationally renowned surgeon, Dr Ebola Mugumbo. By nailing Arthur to a motorised skateboard it was hoped Arthur would retrieve/receive some semblance of mobility. As Arthur was paralysed from the nose down, the only way he would be able to control his electronic chariot would be through the medium of bodily excretions, of which Arthur, was imbued in profusion.

Later, much later........

"Well Arthur the operation was a complete success. I managed to secure you to the skateboard by hammering 6 inch titanium nails through your pelvis. Soon you will  be able to mix and frolic with your 'play mates'. 'I thank you'."

"Thankyou, Dr Mugumbo (for it is he), I can't thank you enough. How can I ever repay you for this new lease on life?"

"That will be 100,000 guineas."

Next day Arthur was eager to try out his new contraption. He quickly surmised that by allowing a single drop of urine alight, from his prosthetic penis, into the cunningly fashioned solenoid he could propel the skate board with aplomb. The simple expedient of allowing two drops to impinge would cause the board to come to a shuddering, but satisfying stop.  

So far, so good. Arthur spent the rest of the day exploring the neighbourhood on his newly acquired/wired mobile platform. Other secretions came into play. Arthur experimented with subtle blends and quickly became adept at controlling his mechanical conveyance. After a particularly long and dehydrating jaunt, Arthur thought it prudent to rest. Unbeknownst to Arthur he had gained the attention of the local stray dog. Sadly, Arthur and board became the centre of the dog's amorous intentions. But before the inevitable release he punctuated foreplay with a golden stream of urine. Twelve drops cascaded on the solenoid causing the board to explode in a frenzy of perambulation. The board quickly gathered speed and Arthur's frenzied muscular contractions failed to elicit a counter flow. Within seconds he was speeding at 100mph and headed toward an oncoming omnibus.......

Will Arthur be able to summon up the three drops of effusion necessary to effect a tight swerve to the right? Could this be the end for Arthur and consequently the demise of my cunningly fashioned series on Arthur 'No Arse' Askey? Fear not, gentle reader your suspense will soon be assuaged. Stay online, for the next and
thrilling instalment.

To be continued.........          

The 'Big Man', in his sublime

Thursday 2 April 2015

The King is dead, long live the King.....

One of the Mugumbos

Breaking news from Mumbojumboland in West Africa. The incumbent Emperor, Mr Jonathon Mugumbo has been defeated in democratic elections by General Despot Mugumbo-Mugumbo. Jonathon Mugumbo conceded the contest and stated that it was time to relinquish power in order that he may enjoy the rest of his life in obscurity and fantastic opulence in the South of France. He wished the new democratically elected leader 'God Speed' and left instructions in crayon, suitably and succinctly entitled: 'How to be a self serving egotistic maniacal despotic repressive corrupt leader in 12 easy steps'. Foreword by Antonius Blarrr.

General Despot Mugumbo-Mugumbo has suspended all future democratic processes and elections. All political parties have generously decided to eat their leaders and disband.

General Mugumbo-Mugumbo' s cabinet will consist of his nonagenarian father, 'Papa' Mugumbo-Mugumbo who will be minister for repression and economic policy. The General's sons, Teapot and Lighthouse will be ministers without portfolio but with AK47s.

The greatest challenges facing the new leader are extreme poverty amongst the people caused by a succession of repressive and rapacious totalitarian regimes and perhaps the greatest, and most intractable threat to this oil rich and emerging nation is from Procul Harem, a wandering troop of  70s ex-rock stars who have been blamed for a series of impromptu jam sessions in the north of the country; kidnapping young impressionable teenage groupies at will, and sponsoring the latest Gary Glitter concert tour in May: Tour Programme on request.

The 'General' (for it is he) has made it is civic duty to reassure the populous that it will be business as usual but has vowed to send officials north bound to suggest that Procul Harem and Gary Glitter are extradited to the UK, forthwith, to face tax evasion charges. Arse.

Peter Townsend