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Sex with Neanderthals gave humans resistance to disease

Breeding with Neanderthals helped humans go global - health - 16 June 2011 - New Scientist
WHEN the first modern humans left Africa they were ill-equipped to cope with unfamiliar diseases. But by interbreeding with the local hominins, it seems they picked up genes that protected them and helped them eventually spread across the planet. The publication of the Neanderthal genome last year offered proof that Homo sapiens bred with Neanderthals after leaving Africa. There is also evidence that suggests they enjoyed intimate relations with other hominins including the Denisovans, a species identified last year from a Siberian fossil. But what wasn't known is whether the interbreeding made any difference to their evolution. To find out Peter Parham of Stanford University in California took a closer look at the genes they picked up along the way. He focused on human leukocyte antigens (HLAs), a family of about 200 genes that is essential to our immune system. It also contains some of the most variable human genes: hundreds of versions - or alleles - exist of each gene in the population, allowing our bodies to react to a huge number of disease-causing agents and adapt to new ones. The humans that left Africa probably carried only a limited number of HLA alleles as they likely travelled in small groups. Worse, their HLAs would have been adapted to African diseases.

June 15, 2011

A map of the 50,000 nearest galaxies

In case you get lost. A helpful map of the 50,000 nearest galaxies - io9

The neurobiology of Crime

Must read. An utterly fascinating article that raising some disturbing implications. Is crime really a disease to be cured? The Brain on Trial - Magazine - The Atlantic
As we develop better technologies for probing the brain, we detect more problems, and link them more easily to aberrant behavior. Take the 2000 case of a 40-year-old man we’ll call Alex, whose sexual preferences suddenly began to transform. He developed an interest in child pornography—and not just a little interest, but an overwhelming one. He poured his time into child-pornography Web sites and magazines. He also solicited prostitution at a massage parlor, something he said he had never previously done. He reported later that he’d wanted to stop, but “the pleasure principle overrode” his restraint. He worked to hide his acts, but subtle sexual advances toward his prepubescent stepdaughter alarmed his wife, who soon discovered his collection of child pornography. He was removed from his house, found guilty of child molestation, and sentenced to rehabilitation in lieu of prison. In the rehabilitation program, he made inappropriate sexual advances toward the staff and other clients, and was expelled and routed toward prison. At the same time, Alex was complaining of worsening headaches. The night before he was to report for prison sentencing, he couldn’t stand the pain anymore, and took himself to the emergency room. He underwent a brain scan, which revealed a massive tumor in his orbitofrontal cortex. Neurosurgeons removed the tumor. Alex’s sexual appetite returned to normal. The year after the brain surgery, his pedophilic behavior began to return. The neuroradiologist discovered that a portion of the tumor had been missed in the surgery and was regrowing—and Alex went back under the knife. After the removal of the remaining tumor, his behavior again returned to normal. When your biology changes, so can your decision-making and your desires. The drives you take for granted (“I’m a heterosexual/homosexual,” “I’m attracted to children/adults,” “I’m aggressive/not aggressive,” and so on) depend on the intricate details of your neural machinery. Although acting on such drives is popularly thought to be a free choice, the most cursory examination of the evidence demonstrates the limits of that assumption. Alex’s sudden pedophilia illustrates that hidden drives and desires can lurk undetected behind the neural machinery of socialization. When the frontal lobes are compromised, people become disinhibited, and startling behaviors can emerge.

June 14, 2011

Is homophobia associated with homosexual arousal?

Science--and common sense--says yes. Is homophobia associated with homosexual arousal? [J Abnorm Psychol. 1996] - PubMed result
The authors investigated the role of homosexual arousal in exclusively heterosexual men who admitted negative affect toward homosexual individuals. Participants consisted of a group of homophobic men (n = 35) and a group of nonhomophobic men (n = 29); they were assigned to groups on the basis of their scores on the Index of Homophobia (W. W. Hudson & W. A. Ricketts, 1980). The men were exposed to sexually explicit erotic stimuli consisting of heterosexual, male homosexual, and lesbian videotapes, and changes in penile circumference were monitored. They also completed an Aggression Questionnaire (A. H. Buss & M. Perry, 1992). Both groups exhibited increases in penile circumference to the heterosexual and female homosexual videos. Only the homophobic men showed an increase in penile erection to male homosexual stimuli. The groups did not differ in aggression. Homophobia is apparently associated with homosexual arousal that the homophobic individual is either unaware of or denies.