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Gay Sheep Study: Homosexuality Is Biological

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    NHNE News List Current Members: 737 Subscribe/unsubscribe/archive info at the bottom of this message. ... HOMOSEXUALITY IS BIOLOGICAL, SUGGESTS GAY SHEEP STUDY
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 7, 2002
      NHNE News List
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      HOMOSEXUALITY IS BIOLOGICAL, SUGGESTS GAY SHEEP STUDY
      By Helen Phillips
      New Scientist
      November 5, 2002
       
      10:51 05 November 02
       
      http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99993008
       
      A study of gay sheep appears to confirm the controversial suggestion that
      there is a biological basis for sexual preference.

      The work shows that rams that prefer male sexual partners had small but
      distinct differences in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, when
      compared with rams that preferred to mate with ewes.

      Kay Larkin and colleagues from Oregon Health and Science University found
      the difference was in a particular region of the hypothalamus -- the
      preoptic nucleus. The region is generally almost twice as large in rams as
      in ewes. But in gay rams its size was almost identical to that in "straight"
      females.

      The hypothalamus is known to control sex hormone release and many types of
      sexual behaviour. Several other parts of the hypothalamus showed consistent
      sex differences in size, but only this specific region showed differences
      that correlated with sexual preference.

      The differences are almost identical to those identified by the
      neuroscientist Simon LeVay in his studies of the brains of gay men. His work
      has always been considered controversial, partly because the brains he
      studied were mostly from men who had died of AIDS. So it was not clear
      whether the differences were related to the disease or to sexual
      preferences.

      Hormone converter

      But the findings in sheep are an important confirmation of LeVay's work,
      says Jacques Balthazart from the University of Liege in Belgium.

      Sheep are particularly interesting, he says, because besides humans, they
      are the only animal where the males may naturally express exclusively gay
      sexual preferences. As many as one in 10 rams can be gay.

      Larkin's team also found that the hypothalamic region had a rich supply of
      the enzyme aromatase, which converts testosterone into oestrogen. It is in
      this form that the hormone interacts with the brain. This may help support
      one theory that sexual orientation, in part at least, may be related to the
      hormones present during fetal development, says Balthazart.

      But Larkin suggests there may also be the influence of genes at work, at
      least in predisposing the animals to homosexuality. This is because
      selective breeding seems to have been responsible for the high proportion of
      gay sheep compared with other animals.

      Larkin presented the research on Monday at the Society for Neuroscience
      meeting in Orlando Florida, US.
       
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