Promiscuous Moms Bear Sexier Sons
Sons who smell good, play hard, and die young.
They attract more females by making more pheromones, at the cost of a shorter life.
Okay, to be honest, we're talking about mice here, not humans. But it shows the power of a provocative title and our fixation on sex.
Consider this quote: "If your sons are particularly sexy, and mate more than they would otherwise, it's helping get your genes more efficiently into the next generation," says biology professor Wayne Potts, senior author of the new study.
"Only recently have we started to understand that environmental conditions experienced by parents can influence the characteristics of their offspring. This study is one of the first to show the 'epigenetic' process working in a way that increases the mating success of sons."
Male mice whose parents freely competed for mates in semi-natural "mouse barns" produced 31 percent more sex attractants called pheromones -- than male mice from caged monogamous parents, the biologists report.
Yet the male mice that produced more pheromone had shorter lifespans in another recent study by Potts and Nelson. Only 48 percent of them lived to the end of the experiment, compared with 80 percent of the male mice whose parents lived monogamously in cages. That's likely because it takes so much energy to produce the sex attractants.
Dads Make Sons Less Sexy
Domesticated mice usually breed monogamously because they are caged only with one mate. "In nature, mice must seek out and choose their own mates -- a process that is eliminated in standard lab breeding conditions," says Nelson, who performed the study for his doctoral thesis at the University of Utah.
What does this research mean for people?
The impacts of social environments on human pheromone output and other traits haven't been studied. "Researchers just have started to scratch the surface of discovering traits that are influenced by parental experience," Potts says. "It is difficult to predict which and how many traits will be involved."
Now, I'm sure some social commentators could have fun with the results of this study.
"Many partners means you die young. Smiling."
"He's so sexy. Bet he has father issues."
"What a hunk. His mother was the town tart."
Does this help with your current writing project? Probably not. But I hope it brought a smile to your face.
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Story Source: Adam C. Nelson, Joseph W. Cauceglia, Seth D. Merkley, Neil A. Youngson, Andrew J. Oler, Randy J. Nelson, Bradley R. Cairns, Emma Whitelaw, and Wayne K. Potts. Reintroducing domesticated wild mice to sociality induces adaptive transgenerational effects on MUP expression. PNAS, November 2013.