Post- Wolbachia

March 22, 2017 § Leave a comment

Today morning I had time for a quick perusal, of Ed Yong’s “I Contain Multitudes”. Page 77/78 gives account of bacteria which manipulate the sex lives of their hosts, the author’s favorite microbe Wolbachia, seems everywhere.

Richard Stouthammer discoverer of a group of asexual female wasps which reproduce by cloning themselves treats them with antibiotcis, this hinders the work of Wolbachia and the males suddenly reappear and both sexes start to mate again. Thierry Rigaud finds that Wolbachia transform male woodlice into females by interfering with the production of male hormones.

The simplicity of this switch, a conjuring of a gender in and out of play, reminded me of a conversation I had nine years ago with a Finnish woman. In condescending tones, she lectured my third world brain about the superiority of a scheme underway in the Nordic preschools.

Girls in Kindergarten she proudly stated, are encouraged to break toys, shout and scream at top of their lungs and to dare rudeness, whereas boys are instructed to caress each other, and play with soft objects. All this to liberate the coming generation of stereotypical gendered behaviors.

I asked her to remind me, which were the cultures in which boys are encouraged to break stuff, for I come from a patriarchal culture and all my recollections are of punishments. Boys who’d for no reason break stuff or senselessly shout, will invite a severity of reaction beyond the imagination of civilized Nordic. Her response was that I cannot understand her as I have never taken courses in gender studies. I was not then aware of the Nordic Gender Equality paradox. That despite many decades of policies introduced to facilitate advancement of women, and eradication of bias in selection, a far fewer percentage of women compared to patriarchal Bangladesh or Iran opt to study for and then work in male careers such as engineering. That is, when given the freedom and social safety net to choose, their choices are far more feminine than in the absence of such measures.

All good and well for skepticism, but Wolbachia made me wonder about a future wherein the ideological kin of Ina (the aforementioned Finn) succeed in devising just such a means of implementing their desired epi-eugenics. How dissatisfied can they be with the result?

Because on that οὐ-plateau, the program ought to yield women which do not resemble anything that goes by that name today and possibly men which have been so Wolbach-ed as to not be worth measuring up to.

A Hegelian draft runs over, Herrschaft und Knechtschaft redux. Surely, to quote the likes of Roger Scruton, if the argument for equality has merit, it does so because it protects difference rather than, obliterate that for whose justice one strives.

Does not the notion of feminine in its distinction deserve protection and respect, from the pedagogic manipulations of such ideologues. Or must it be subsumed under a hoped for, future hermaphrodite ideal.

Reading a few more lines from Ed Yong, one learns that Wolbachia was found by Greg Hurst to be killing male embryos of magnificent blue-moon butterfly, so that the females outnumbered the males by hundred to one.

Why are the males targeted so? Is the bacterium hoping to become the education minister of a Nordic nation?

The answer:
Wolbachia can only pass to the next generation of hosts in eggs; sperm are too small to contain it. Females are its ticket to the future; males are an evolutionary dead end. So it has found many ways of screwing over the male hosts to expand its pool of female ones. It Kills them, as in Hurst’s butterflies. It feminises them as Rigaud’s woodlice.It eliminates the need for them entirely by allowing females to reproduce asexually, as in Stouthamer’s wasps.

…Where Wolbachia does allow males to survive, it still manipulates them. It often changes their sperm so that they cannot successfully fertilize eggs unless the eggs are infected with the same strain of Wolbachia. From the female perspective, this incompatibility means that infected females (which can mate with whomever they like) gain a competitive advantage over uninfected females (which can only mate with uninfected males)…”

This is food for great sci-fi, Post-Wolbachia un-infected males can only mate with un-infected females, a race which can only be won by the rise of Trump the pussygrabber 🙂


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