October 19, 2007

Gay Fungus: Not a "Lifestyle Choice"

Oooooh, but the fundies are going to hate this one.

It turns out that homosexuality occurs naturally in some rather unexpected places. We've seen it occur in mammals and birds, certainly... but how about in fungi?

A new study published by Duke University researchers has found "same-sex mating" occurring in Cryptococcus neoformans, a fungal pathogen responsible for causing a form of meningitis in humans. The fungus is known to have two mating types; a fungal mating type is analogous to gender in animals. One of the two mating types is far more common in nature than the other, however, and it has been a long-time mystery as to how a species with such an imbalance in the effective population sizes of its "genders" manages to persist and undergo sexual reproduction.

As it turns out, this particular fungus engages in same-sex mating, and does so successfully.

The study explaining all of this is available free of charge to anyone who wants it: αADα Hybrids of Cryptococcus neoformans: Evidence of Same-Sex Mating in Nature and Hybrid Fitness.

As much as I hold fungi in esteem, I don't think they engage in rational decision-making, so this certainly isn't a case that can be chalked up to a lifestyle choice. Nor do I think that we'll be seeing fundies trying to pray the gay away for the benefit (heh) of C. neoformans.

I await explanation of why the Intelligent Designer/Jehovah would have built homosexuality into a relatively primitive fungus but have a problem with it in other organisms. That one should be good for a laugh, no?

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