For weeks, I’ve hesitated about posting this, because I knew that if it got any replies, they’d be from angry manosphere types going all FUCK YOU MOM! Recently, however, I realized that if I can’t troll my own blog, then I might as well take it down. I subsequently acknowledged that I’m less interested in the focus of this article than in improving regular peoples’ ability to read serious research.
Months ago, on some other blog, I read the following:
Women absorb and carry living DNA and cells from every male they have sexual intercourse with
Linked to the claim was a discussion on a conspiracy theory web forum. A few links deep, however, there were a couple of serious journal articles. More generally, this claim has been bandied about since, as though it were unshakeable.
Just as a spoiler, the quoted claim above is wrong (and not only is it wrong, the opposite is true). Even so, something interesting is going on.
Can a woman’s prior sex partners influence the characteristics of her children with an unrelated male? That’s the question being asked in a 2014 study (pdf download), headed by Angela Crean (link) of the University of Sydney (Australia).
Newly discovered non-genetic mechanisms break the link between genes and inheritance, thereby also raising the possibility that previous mating partners could influence traits in offspring sired by subsequent males that mate with the same female (‘telegony’). In the fly Telostylinus angusticol- lis, males transmit their environmentally acquired condition via paternal effects on offspring body size. We manipulated male condition, and mated females to two males in high or low condition in a fully crossed design. Although the second male sired a large majority of offspring, offspring body size was influenced by the condition of the first male. This effect was not observed when females were exposed to the first male without mating, implicating semen-mediated effects rather than female differential allocation based on pre-mating assessment of male quality. Our results reveal a novel type of transgenerational effect with potential implications for the evolution of reproductive strategies.
At least in fruit flies, previous matings seem to alter the phenotypical traits of children, conceived by a different father. This is a nongenetic transmission (paragenetic? – ya boy Boxer is not a Biologist, and doesn’t know the correct term). In plain language, no DNA is being recombined or stored. Even so, something appears to be happening that no one can sufficiently explain (yet).
Crean et. al. constructed a series of different experiments, in an attempt to control for environmental factors that would muddy the results. Well-fed fruit flies, for example, are larger than poorly nourished ones. Nutrition was safely ruled out by the researchers. There was also an attempt to filter out non-penetrative attempts at mating.
What we end up with is some evidence that the transmission of semen has some effect on children, despite the lack of any genetic transmissions. The researcher’s conjecture is that some unknown component in seminal fluid is effecting ovules (i.e. immature eggs). No one knows the mechanism of transmission. What was established was a statistical anomaly that our present understanding of heredity can not account for.
If a female fruit fly mates unsuccessfully with a large male, and then goes on to successfully mate with a small male, her offspring will have a significantly greater chance of displaying a large male phenotype, despite having no genetic legacy from the large male.
What this study shows is generally not the claims made by conspiracy-theorists and hardened MGTOW types in the ‘sphere, but it remains interesting. Namely: Something is going on with promiscuous female fruit-flies, and all the usual things that might cause it have been successfully ruled out.
What Crean et. al. hypothesize is only one of a handful of possibilities. There are similar studies suggesting an indirect epigenetic link — basically the stress of an immune response methylating DNA in the mother to activate various gene expressions. It’s something like common sense to suggest that if the stress of smoking cigarettes can influence gene expression, and it does (pdf download) then getting pumped full of strange jizz and STDs on a regular basis might also. Nothing definitive exists, though, and nothing is likely to be done to address this obvious question in the foreseeable future.
In an ideal world, we’d have qualified people trying to replicate these findings, testing for specifics, and eventually performing parallel research on mammals. In our current feminized milieu, that’s not likely to occur. The results of future tests would draw attention to, and invite criticism of, the hyper-promiscuous ‘you go girl’ cultural facets which we all know and love. Both men and women are supposed to be able to slut it up, and if (motherfucking science!) gets in the way of that, then it needs to be suppressed.