Friday, March 03, 2006

What can Wolbachia teach us about the Christian Right?   posted by the @ 3/03/2006 04:49:00 PM

A short piece by Michelle Cottle in TNR "THE CHRISTIAN RIGHT AND SEX: Sex Obsessed" caught my attention:

Every couple of months a news story pops up about how the evangelical community is growing up, reaching out, and expanding its political activism beyond the traditional issues of personal piety: abortion, sex education, smut, and anything to do with homosexuality.
So you'll excuse me if I don't expect Focus on the Family or the Family Research Council to start lobbying for an enviro-friendly energy policy any time soon. Because for many evangelicals, sex is, was, and always will be the Alpha and the Omega. And woe be unto anyone who tries to change the subject or even expand the conversation.

I'll leave it to you to decide if this is a good thing in the ethical sense, but let me suggest that sex obsession is a property that one would expect from a religion if that obsession helps to produce new believers. Maybe your skeptical? Well, consider the example of Wolbachia:

Wolbachia are gram-negative bacteria that form intracellular inherited infections in many invertebrates. They are extremely common with 20-75% of all insects being infected. Moreover they infect numerous non-insect invertebrates including nematodes, mites and spiders. The limits of the host range of Wolbachia are not fully appreciated at this time. Much of the success of Wolbachia can be attributed to the diverse phenotypes that result from infection. These range from classical mutualism to reproductive parasitism as characterized by the ability of Wolbachia to override chromosomal sex determination, induce parthenogenesis, selectively kill males, influence sperm competition and generate cytoplasmic incompatibility in early embryos. The unique biology of Wolbachia has attracted a growing number of researchers interested in questions ranging from the evolutionary implications of infection through to the use of this agent for pest and disease control.

Much of this playing around with sex is "motivated" by the fact that the bacteria reproduce best (or only?) in oocytes. You can read more about Wolbachia here.