non-sequitur

So researchers have recently advanced the claim that one reason why males in many societies have shorter life spans than females is because males have genes that kill us off quicker. And you always thought it was our love of chili fries! The basic outline seems to be that males are evolved to expend more energy developing larger more powerful bodies and that inflicts a cost on us biologically. Or, to be slightly more rigorous, I’ll quote from the article:

They studied mice created with genetic material from two mothers, but no father.

This was achieved by manipulating DNA in mouse eggs so the genes behaved like those in sperm.

The altered genetic material was implanted into the eggs of adult female mice to create embryos.

The resulting offspring, completely free of any genetic material inherited from a male, lived on average a third longer than mice with a normal genetic inheritance.

The researchers believe the key is a gene passed on by fathers called Rasgrf1.

Although it passes down to both sexes, it is silenced in females through a process known as imprinting.

I’m interested in this because all this time I thought the average male lifespan was shorter because young males have a distressing tendency to do stupid things to impress their buddies. Indeed, how many men have uttered the last words, “Hey! Watch this!”? So, I’m glad to have research indicating that young masculine idiocy isn’t the only reason we men seem to have shorter lives. This is all good and proper, and I’m pleased to see this research moving forward as it can only help us to understand better the health and longevity disparities between males and females. In other words, if we as sociologists are going to try to explain health issues, we’d better understand the genetic and biological components as well.

My puzzlement with this story, however, comes later when the researchers head into the tall grass at a sprint:

Dr Allan Pacey, an expert in reproduction at the University of Sheffield, said: “The results of this study are intriguing, and this is a topic that clearly needs further investigation.

“However, I would resist the temptation to fantasise about whether this may one day to a medical treatment to extend life through gene manipulation.

“I think humans have a good innings on the whole and we should try and be content with that.”

So, basically, we should just be content with genes that kill us after a while? I’m not saying I expect researchers to develop a therapy to deal with this situation, or even that a therapy is possible, but I have t admit that I wouldn’t mind living an extra few years even though I’m male. Or, in the words of Joseph Heller: I intend to live forever or die in the attempt.

Dr. Pacey is entitled to his opinion but, really, a little discontentment is not so bad every now and then.

6 thoughts on “non-sequitur”

  1. The fact that males die more might be part of why the sex ratio at birth is about 106:100 – God gives us more boys and then lets them expire at a faster rate. Even male fetuses are less likely to make it. (In terms of compensating differentials – think of yourself as lucky to have been born, but unlucky to face a shorter life expectancy?)

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  2. As you know, Drek, “life expectancy” has three nodes in its distribution:

    (1) birth – dying at childbirth tends to shorten lives.

    (2) breeding – dying in childbirth tends to shorten women’s lifespans. dying in war tends to shorten men’s around the same time, though for dumber reasons.

    (3) Old age/death. Which we can manipulate by eating better (vegetarians living ca. 5 years longer than humans), better medicine (heart attacks aren’t necessarily fatal these days), and living better (don’t smoke and drink so much, exercise more–live longer, though possibly enjoy it less).

    The extension of life expectancy in the past fifty years is almost entirely due to better heart procedures. The next extension will be due primarily to better brain treatments.

    The genes change is a long way from making a major difference. If you’re prioritizing (“rationing” in Republican-speak) areas of research, brain chemistry is rather higher right now than gene therapy.

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    1. Hey, no arguments here. Honestly, I’m just struck by the oddity of concluding an article like that with a message along the lines of, “But, hey, we do pretty well, so who cares?” Just struck me as… well… a non-sequitur.

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  3. I like that conclusion! How long do you really want to live? And, under what conditions? In our medicare mortality study, we found the predictable large sex differences in mortality rates. But, in the same data we also find large sex differences in the prevalence of dementias (alzheimer’s, vascular, etc). So, the women live to get dementia. Great. I’d rather die, thank you!

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