Research Gone Wild: Man or Worm? - Pacific Standard

Research Gone Wild: Man or Worm?

Do men forgo food for sex? So says one newspaper.
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(Photo: Public Domain)

(Photo: Public Domain)

WHAT WAS REPORTED

"Men’s brains are wired to make them ignore food when sex is on the menu, researchers have claimed." (Headlined “Leg or Breast?”) —Daily Mail, October 16, 2014

WHAT THE STUDY SAID

Male members of the species of microscopic roundworm C. elegans tend to wander away from food sources, apparently in search of a mate, whereas hermaphrodites—the species has no pure females—tend to stay put. A group of males who were genetically modified to be more sensitive to the smell of food proved to be more interested in feeding than their unmodified counterparts, and as a result had less sex and fewer offspring.

WHAT’S THE DIFF?

While roundworms are widely used to study basic biological mechanisms, they are not humans. The study doesn’t address the relative ability of men and women to smell food, nor whether that ability might influence sexual behavior. At most, it provides evidence that there may be gender-based differences in male and female nervous systems, which presumably play out in different ways in different species.

LIKES AND SHARES

In the first two weeks: 581 likes and 243 shares on Facebook, and 49 tweets.

IN OTHER NEWS

The Washington Post wrote about the study but resisted applying the results to humans until the second half of the piece (and conceded that “people are way more complex creatures than roundworms”). A report in the Daily Telegraph resisted the temptation to reference humans at all.

—"Sex, Age, and Hunger Regulate Behavior Prioritization Through Dynamic Modulation of Chemoreceptor Expression," Deborah A. Ryan, Renee M. Miller, et al., Current Biology, November 2014

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