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A University of Utah research study has determined that the sexual orientation of nematodes (millimeter long worms that live in soils around the globe) is a matter of genetics. A Salt Lake Tribune article reads:

The biologists identified scent-detecting cells that help males find and home in on the females’ pheromones. Then they “flipped a switch” in the females’ nervous system so that they behaved like males – swarming to the scent of another female – but their gender remained chromosomally the same. According to a related study from the University of Rochester Medical Center to be published in the same journal, the female worms also picked up other traits associated with males, not just sexual behavior. At first, White and Jorgensen suspected that neurons found only in male brains determined male sexual attraction. To their surprise, they discovered that neurons in female brains, when activated, did the same thing. Female nematodes that were never previously drawn to the pheromones of other females were suddenly swarming to the scent. “It is the mind only – not the mind and body – that needs to be male to have male behavior,” White said.

One should also note the caveat that is going along with these findings:

The research does not provide solid answers about human sexuality – “that’s going to be more complicated than what’s happening with worms,” said White. But it does lend support to the notion that people are born with a sexual orientation. “It seems possible that if sexual orientation is genetically wired in worms, it would be in people, too,” biology professor Erik Jorgensen said in a news release.

These findings are already being discussed all over the place and it seems that from a social and political perspective, the potential conclusions are double-edged. It does indicate a strong possibility that gays are ‘born that way’ – a stance that has been asserted and defended by the gay rights movement for a long time. However, the conclusion can also be drawn that if sexual orientation can be ‘flipped’ in worms, that it could potentially be altered and changed in humans as well.

Before this new research study arose, R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, wrote a controversial blog post on the subject. The post was titled: Is Your Baby Gay? What If You Could Know? What If You Could Do Something About It?.” At the time he was responding to some research that was done in regards to the sexual orientation of sheep. He wrote:

What makes the sheep “sexual partner preference testing” research so interesting is that the same scientists who are documenting the rather surprising sexual behaviors of male sheep think they can also change the sexual orientation of the animals. In other words, finding a biological causation for homosexuality may also lead to the discovery of a “cure” for the same phenomenon. That’s where the issue gets really interesting. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals [PETA] has called for an end to the research, while tennis star Martina Navratilova called the research “homophobic and cruel” and argued that gay sheep have a “right” to be homosexual. No kidding. Homosexual activists were among the first to call for (and fund) research into a biological cause of homosexuality. After all, they argued, the discovery of a biological cause would lead to the normalization of homosexuality simply because it would then be seen to be natural, and thus moral. But now the picture is quite different. Many homosexual activists recognize that the discovery of a biological marker or cause for homosexual orientation could lead to efforts to eliminate the trait, or change the orientation through genetic or hormonal treatments.

Obviously this latest addition to the research on sexual orientation is only going to add to this sort of controversy. It will certainly be interesting to see how the discussion moves along.