One flew over the cuckold’s nest: a birds-eye view of female infidelity

Professor Simon Griffith, long-time friend of the Sex Lab, has joined us as a guest contributor. His post today was first published on 27 June 2011 in The Conversation. We reproduce it here under The Conversation’s Creative Commons attribution license.

Wild zebra finch pairs keep their eyes peeled for opportunities to cheat. Image courtesy of Simon Griffith.

INFIDELITY between sexual partners is ubiquitous – almost as prevalent as the tight and long-lasting social bonds that couples form.

But thanks to a recent German study of Australian zebra finches, a cheating partner now has a new excuse: they can blame both their male and female ancestors.

It now seems that the genes driving promiscuous behaviour have a long history of being shaped by evolutionary selection in both males and females.

The costs of infidelity can be high, with both males and females likely to desert an unfaithful partner, or at least reduce their investment into the partnership and any resulting offspring. Despite the risks, both males and females regularly cheat on each other.

The evolutionary forces underlying such behaviour have been the focus of research over the past three decades. The potential reward for a male that cheats on his partner is the opportunity to sire additional offspring with another female, without having to invest any parental effort into those offspring. Continue reading One flew over the cuckold’s nest: a birds-eye view of female infidelity

Get laid or die trying: Why rock stars die at 27 or end up damaged and on reality TV

This is a piece that first appeared in The Conversation on 20 June 2011. It is based on the last three chapters of my book Sex, Genes & Rock ‘n’ Roll: How Evolution has Shaped the Modern World.

Rock stars are successful in the bedroom, but all too often their wild lifestyle catches up with them. Flickr/Chalocuaz

Kurt Cobain was the messiah of my generation, the monumental talent who saved rock from the mediocrity of 1980s cock rock and hair metal. But behind his public eminence stalked a personal hell of addiction and depression. When he killed himself at 27, he left a note quoting a Neil Young lyric: “It’s better to burn out, than to fade away.”

Music greats like Cobain have a nasty tendency to die young. Blues pioneer Robert Johnson, guitar deity Jimi Hendrix, Rolling Stone Brian Jones, and singers Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison are among the many greats who died at 27.

And there’s nothing special about 27 either. Buddy Holly, Bon Scott, John Bonham, Keith Moon and many others never made it out of their early 30s.

Live fast, die young

Dying young or fading away do seem to be two sides of the same coin. Heads you die young, tails you live long enough to succumb to dementia and decrepitude.

The fast-living rock ’n’ roll lifestyle accelerates both, but everybody either dies young or dies slowly. Rock is really just life, amplified, and turned up to 11.

In Sex, Genes & Rock ’n’ Roll: How Evolution has Shaped the Modern World, I devote several chapters to the evolutionary origins and consequences of music. Continue reading Get laid or die trying: Why rock stars die at 27 or end up damaged and on reality TV

Disaster looms in a world with too many men

This is the start of an article I published in ABC Science Online on 16 June, about the dangers of allowing couples (especially couples who can pay) to choose the sex of their children through IVF. It builds on Chapter 8 in Sex, Genes & Rock ‘n’ Roll – about Asia’s 200 million missing women.

Pressure is mounting to allow parents using in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) to choose the sex of their child.

This is an emotive issue with many private tragedies at its heart. Like the Melbourne couple with three sons who lost a daughter soon after birth, and then sought to use pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) to ensure they had a baby girl.

Some insights from evolutionary biology, and a massive tragedy that is now unfolding in Asia, illustrate why the Victorian Patient Review Panel was right to reject the bid of these grieving parents.

Read the full article ……

Welcome Madeline Girard

Maddie Girard is a PhD student from UC Berkeley (Damian Elias’ research group) who studies signalling in peacock spiders and other insects. She is visiting Australia until the end of the year, and will be based in our lab at UNSW and Mariella Herberstein’s lab at Macquarie. Until the peacock spiders emerge in Spring, Maddie will be working on crickets in the lab.

Do check out Maddie’s awesome video, above, on her spider work.

Nobody needs antibacterial anything

Dr Ignaz Semmelweiss who discovered that infections could be cut by introducing hand washing standards to obstetric clinics.

Ignaz Semmelweis is today credited with the realization in the mid-1800’s that death rates at maternity clinics could be significantly decreased if doctors simply washed their hands with chlorine wash between handling cadavers and delivering babies. For his trouble he was dismissed as a loony and beaten to death in an insane asylum, 20 years before Louis Pasteur’s germ theory of disease introduced the rest of the world to the notion of microscopic organisms that can kill you.

It wasn’t until 1928 that Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, the first known antibacterial substance which would revolutionize medicine, earn Fleming a Nobel prize, and ultimately spawn an enormous pharmaceutical industry. Today, hand-washing and aseptic techniques are commonplace in hospitals around the world, but it was antibacterials such as penicillin and other (often synthetic) antibiotics that came to assume a prominent and ubiquitous role as the first line of defense against a plethora of potentially lethal microbes. Indeed, the effectiveness and importance of antibacterials was such that in the 1970’s surgical scrubs worn by doctors and nurses in operating theaters began to be treated with an antibacterial agent named triclosan. Continue reading Nobody needs antibacterial anything

eBook now available for purchase

The eBook of Sex, Genes & Rock ‘n’ Roll is going to be sold in several different places. We will update this page as soon as each supplier has it. For now, you’d do best if you have a Kindle or an iPad.

  1. iBook in Apple iTunes Store
  2. Kindle eBook at (Australia, NZ customers, use this).
  3. Kindle book at (for UK/Europe)

Wealth, women and song: Great review from Clio Cresswell in the ALR

Literary Review
01 Jun 2011
The Australian Literary Review published this great full-page review. It’s a cracker. Mathematician and author Clio Cresswell admits some resistance to reviewing another book about evolution and human behaviour. However, it seems she was pleasantly surprised:

“In Sex, Genes & Rock ‘n’ Roll, Rob Brooks advances more sophisticated theories of the way evolution has shaped and is still shaping contemporary society……. Brooks lays bare the complex weave between our genes, the environment, our bodies and our cultures. He delivers the most subtle of arguments in the style of an easy sunday afternoon read.”

Click the image od follow this link to view the review in Australian Literary Review digital edition. Alternatively, you can see the review here in text-only form.

Grant to Chang Seok Han

Chang Seok has just been informed that he is to receive a Rosemanry Grant award for Graduate Student Research from the Society for the Study of Evolution.

The goal of these grants is to identify and support innovative and potentially high impact research by beginning graduate students. His proposal was reviewed very positively amid a competitive field and he was awarded the full amount of his budget (US $ 1894).