Women Are from Venus, Men Are Like Papayas

Scientists in Japan have created a fatherless mouse by mixing the genes from two female mice and adding them to an egg. Boy, do I suddenly feel useless. I know I shouldn't. After all, just because we're accustomed to a sperm being integral to the creation of an offspring doesn't mean all animals need it to procreate. Bees, ants, aphids, and even some fish and reptiles reproduce without having sex, which means the males don't have much more to do in life than work, take out the trash, and watch football while the females have all the fun by themselves. And probably don't even let the guys watch. On the plus side, it means they don't have to buy the females dinner, remember flowers on their anniversary, or lie by telling them their butts don't look big. I mean, what are they going to do, withhold the sex they never have with them?

The researchers from the Tokyo University of Agriculture (motto: "Taking the fun out of sex") who pulled off this feat say it will be a long time, if ever, until this can be accomplished with humans. That's a good thing since if it caught on it could mean the end of the Y chromosome as we've come to know and love it. Or I have, though I'm definitely partial to the little buggers. The Y chromosome, for those of you who slept through that biology class because you were up late the night before studying human anatomy in the back seat of a car, is the chromosome that defines maleness. Add a Y chromosome to an egg and you get a boy. Don't, and you get a girl. Another way to look at it is that if the Y chromosome gets lost on the way to the egg, you end up with a daughter. Feel free to add the "If they'd stop and ask directions there would be more baby boys in the world" joke of your choice here.

The Y chromosome is already in enough trouble as it is. Scientists say it's been shrinking for millions of years. Now, thanks to Viagra and other drugs Bob Dole and Mike Ditka highly recommend, this is no longer a problem. Just kidding. Actually there is no cure for chromosome shrinkage. Well, other than not plunging one into a cold swimming pool. The problem is that most chromosomes recombine with their partners to repair screwed up genes and rejuvenate themselves. Since Y chromosomes don't have partners, each time a gene goes bad it can't be fixed, not even with a lot of nagging from the X chromosome, a job jar conspicuously left on the kitchen table, duct tape, and a case of WD-40. Bryan Sykes, author of the book Adam's Curse - A Future Without Men, says if this keeps up all men will be infertile in about 125,000 years and women will have to go to Japan where hopefully scientists will have progressed from creating mice without fathers to creating kids without them. And since at that point all the scientists will be women, they'll have a vested interest in figuring it out.

This isn't just a people problem, since Y chromosomes are also found in other mammals. And papayas. Yes, it turns out that there are male, female, and hermaphrodite papayas, and it's important to be able to tell them apart since hermaphrodites yield the sweetest fruit, females next, and the male's, well, they're flat out tasteless and undesirable. Isn't it nice to know there are constants in the world? The problem is you can't tell a papaya's sex until it blooms, which can take six to 12 months. When the papayas finally reach adolescence and have their coming out, workers ungraciously yank out the females and males, leaving only the hermaphrodites to bear tasty fruit. Why do I get the feeling that if Pat Robertson hears this he's never going to eat another papaya in his life?

According to a study reported in the journal Nature (motto: "Nature, it's a natural"), a biologist in Hawaii who was looking for a way to determine a papaya's sex from its seed discovered that the male has a Y chromosome. In fact, it turns out that it looks a lot like ours. Okay, it looks a lot like ours did about 250 million years ago. The scientist estimates that papayas have had Y chromosomes for about 25 million years, which makes you wonder where they picked them up. After all, Chromosomes-R-Us didn't open until 1924. I guess they could have gotten them from humans, which sounds like either the plot of a bad 1950's horror movie or a letter to the Penthouse Forum.

Either way, don't spend too much time thinking about this. Just pray that our ancestors came across some very good looking papayas. And that scientists don't figure out a way to use those new, young, virile papaya Y chromosomes instead of ours. After all, it's one thing to be born without a father. It's another to have to learn to call that thing that sits at the head of the table Papa Papaya without stumbling over its name or laughing. Personally, I can't wait to hear about science's next discovery.

More Mad Dog can be found online at: www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation. Email: md@maddogproductions.com

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