Andaman Chronicle

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Switching Sex

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Anthias are coral reef fish. Small with elongated bodies, they range from orange, pink, purple, yellow, and they live in large schools with mainly females and a few males. Anthias have an unusual adaptation. They are sequential hermaphrodites. This means they are born one sex, but can change to another.

Anthias are all born female. When a male dies, one of the larger female anthias changes into a male. The change from female to male takes about two weeks. It includes a new reproductive system and a change in size, shape, and colour. However, if a school of anthias forms, with too many males, the male anthias change their sex again—and return to being female.

With the removal of the dominant male from the harem, the next most aggressive female in line will change her sex. In a domestic aquarium, however, the change in anthias is sometimes not complete. In the wild the dominant male has a harem and mates with numerous females under his control. In an aquarium this is not easy to replicate, and females turning into males often get stuck in a male-female transition zone.

Have you never wanted to be a member of the other sex? As society becomes more elastic in thought, so many people say that they feel they are in the wrong bodies. Thousands of plastic surgeons are in business to change human sexual organs. It takes dozens of painful operations.

It is much easier for animals and plants.

Sequential hermaphroditism occurs when the individual changes sex at some point in its life, and produces eggs or sperm at different stages in life. Either the change is influenced by its society, or when it reaches a certain age or size.

In animals, the different types of change are male to female (protandry), female to male (protogyny), female to hermaphrodite, and male to hermaphrodite.

Protandry occurs in many fish, mollusks, and crustaceans. Clownfish live in a society, where one breeding pair lives in a sea anemone. The female is the largest and the male is the second largest. The rest of the group is made up of smaller non-breeders with no sexual organs. If the female dies, the male gains weight and becomes the female for that group. The largest non-breeding fish then sexually matures and becomes the male of the group.  Protandrous hermpahrodites start out life as males, and, where social pressures dictate, are capable of sex changing into fully functional females. If the Disney film Finding Nemo were accurate, instead of trying to find a wife for his son, after his wife was eaten by a barracuda, Marlin would have partnered up with another male and then proceeded to change his sex.

Other examples of protandrous animals include: comb jellies, flatworms, the Mormon Fritillary butterfly - small orange, black and silver. Laevapex fuscus is a small, freshwater, air-breathing limpet. First the males emerge and produces sperm in late winter, then a certain number turn into females and copulate with the males after which the eggs mature.

Marine sea star species, like the Common Cushion Star, change gender from male to female like clockwork. The first three years as a male and the next three as a female.

One of the reasons for this change could be the size advantage. Eggs are larger than sperm, so larger individuals are able to make more eggs. The group can enlarge faster by increasing their reproductive potential, by beginning life as male and then turning female upon achieving a certain size.

Protogynous animals are born female and, at some point in their lifespan, become male. All female protogynous species possess germ cells for both sex organs and, when the social situation calls for a change in sex, are capable of suppressing the female gonads and developing male ones. As the female ages and grows bigger she will turn into a male. In these systems, large males use aggressive territorial defence to dominate female mating. Which is why it makes sense for a large female to become male. Parrot fish are mostly born female, but can become male at any point in their lives. After their transformation, some will become super-males — larger than the typical male parrot fish and exhibiting extra-vibrant colouring.

Wrasses are one of the largest families of coral reef fish. Large males hold territories. In the  California Sheephead Wrasse, sex change is age-dependent. All Sheepheads are born female, and stay female for four to six years, before changing sex. Other fish in which this happens are Groupers, Porgies, Angelfish, Gobies, Emperors and Swamp Eels. Wrasses are born as males and females and then change sexes. This is unlike angelfish where the males are exclusively derived from females, i.e., there is no such thing as a male born angelfish.

It sometimes occurs in the frog Rana temporaria, where older females will sometimes switch to being males

Perhaps one of the reasons that beings can change sex is that, if they don’t move very far out as adults, the risk of inbreeding exists – which Nature abhors. Some groups change their sex at the same time. If siblings are of similar ages, and if they all begin life as one sex and then transition to the other sex at about the same age, then siblings are likely to be the same sex at any given time. This reduces the likelihood of inbreeding, and they have to go out to look for mates. The change in sex also allows for organisms to reproduce, if no individuals of the opposite sex are already present.

Giant Limpets commonly change from male to female when they live together in small patchy habitats of water. In fact, female limpets, like Patella ferrugina, can turn back into males, depending on the group size and the number of each sex.  Which means that limpets can count better than humans !

Bearded dragons are reptiles that can change their sex from male to female while still in the egg. Researchers at the University of Canberra have found that these reptiles (which are still genetically male but take on the role and reproductive capabilities of the female) are fertile and even lay more eggs than their originally-female counterparts. This phenomenon is triggered by changes in climate : the hotter it is, the more likely that the male will change to a female.

Some male cuttlefish have devised an ingenious way to “get the girl”: become female. To avoid confrontation with other males, while trying to woo a partner, a male cuttlefish can change one side of its body to look female, researchers at Macquarie University found. When positioned between a rival male and a female potential mate, the male cuttlefish can appear female on the side seen by the male, all the while appearing in its true male form to lure in the female. The male rival simply sees two females, and has no idea what’s happening right in front of him.

Blackfin Goby change their sex, dependent on need. Though the transformation is from female to male (when the resident male dies), the tiny fish can transform back when they want. As with other sex changing animals, when gobies physically change their sex, their behaviour changes as well. Females that become males are no longer submissive, adopting the jerky movements of natural males. Predation pressure on reefs makes movement for mate selection very dangerous, especially for small and sparsely distributed species like gobies. It would be advantageous therefore, for them to simply stay at home and switch genders as the need arises, such as when a mate dies, or when the sex ratio is skewed strongly toward a specific gender.

The herbicide, Atrazine, has been shown to cause sex change in frogs. It affects the amphibian’s hormone levels and ten percent changes them into females. However, while the females can mate, their children will all be males.

Hydras are small, fresh-water organisms who never die. They have a tubular body with one foot at one end and a mouth opening, surrounded by one to twelve thin, mobile tentacles, which fire at prey. They move by somersaulting just a few inches a day. When a Hydra is cut in half, each half regenerates and form into a small  Hydra. If the Hydra is sliced into many segments then the middle slices will form both a "head" and a "foot". Hydras living together change their sexes regularly, sometimes all together.

In the marine worm species Ophyrotrocha puerilis, a pair of individuals will spawn multiple times, with the larger individual as the female. When the faster-growing male becomes larger than the female, both members of the pair change sex, spawning in their new roles, until again the male becomes larger, at which point they both change sex again. 

To join the animal welfare movement contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , www.peopleforanimalsindia.org

  • Written by Denis Giles
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Are All Beings Same?

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Are all beings the same? Yes, the human, the hammerhead worm, oyster, chicken and the shark : all of us have the same emotions, fears, lusts and intelligence. Yet, the human eats some, kills some for sport, uses some to wear as accessories, destroys some as pests. The human is the ultimate cannibal : eating his own kind, humans in another form, again and again.

Here are some random bits of research that show you the similarities between humans and every other species :

* Many people need coffee as a stimulant to wake up. It also improves memory. A study by Wright, Baker, Palmer et al, published in Science “Caffeine in Floral Nectar”, reveals that  bees similarly like caffeine to get a buzz.

The honeybee collects nectar from flowers and this helps pollinate them. Certain flowers, such as citrus and coffea, includes low doses of caffeine in their nectar in order to attract honeybees and keep them returning! The researchers found that bees found caffeine rewarding and they remembered the smell of caffeine upto three days later.

These clever flowers have evolved caffeine-laced nectar in order to “hook” the bees and ensure their reproductive success. Caffeine actually serves a dual purpose in the flower – it wards off herbivores/plant pests as well.

* It was considered that sparrows are monogamous but a study, published in The American Naturalist, followed 200 males and 194 females as they formed 313 unique monogamous pairs and hatched 863 broods on Lundy. Some sparrow ‘divorces’ occurred—but most changes of life partner were due to a death.

However, some females cheated on their mates and were promiscuous by habit. This was usually with males that were fitter than their own mates. But, researchers said, that cheating came with a cost—the cheating female’s partner will provide less food for their nest of young.  If the males know that not all the chicks in their nest are likely to be theirs they make a decision to provide less. Males changed their behaviour based on their partner.

Males monitor the times the females spend away from the nest and are usually able to tell if their partner is unfaithful.

* Are teenage  humans the only ones that seek out mild altering drugs in groups ? In the wildlife documentary, Dolphins: Spy in the Pod, by John Downer, young dolphins are seen carefully manipulating a certain kind of puffer fish which, if provoked, releases a nerve toxin as a defensive chemical. They passed it between them for up to 30 minutes at a time chewing gently on it. In small enough dose, this toxin can have trance-inducing qualities and the dolphins know it. They handle it in a way that shows that it’s not the first time they’re doing it, and they appear to have worked out a way to make the fish release just the right amount. The marine mammals then enter what seems to be a trance-like state, hanging around with their noses at the surface, as if fascinated by their own reflection.

* Research done by Northampton University indicates that cows have “best friends.” For the study, cows were penned for 30 minute intervals twice, once with a  partner, a “best friend,” and once with a cow that they did not know. The heart rates of the cows were measured  when paired with their best friend – they were significantly lower and they experienced less stress overall. The notion that cows have best friends indicates that all cows have personalities and a desire, not unlike our own, to develop deep connections with others. Not only are cows more calm when they’re around a buddy, but they’re actually smarter too. In a 2014 study, researchers from the University of British Columbia found that young calves, that live alone, perform worse on tasks of cognitive skill than those that live with a best friend.

* Are human beings the only ones that gamble ? Pigeons gamble just like humans.

Research done in the University of Kentucky, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society, found that pigeons given the choice, to peck a light that would give them three food pellets each time, universally preferred a light that would give them a payout of 10 pellets 20 percent of the time.  Which means they got less 2 pellets on an average instead of three.

Hungry pigeons were trained to peck lights for food.  They learned that if they pecked a light on the right, they would see one of two colours, like yellow or blue. Ten seconds later, the pigeon would certainly get three food pellets. If the pigeon pecked the other light on the left, the light would flash either red or green. If red, the pigeons would get 10 pellets 10 seconds later. If green, the pigeons would get nothing. That light was the equivalent of taking a gamble. 82% of the birds acted like seasoned gamblers, picking the risky light with the 10-or-nothing outcome. On the right the pigeon gets 50 % more food yet the bird chooses the left almost always! The same phenomenon could explain why human gamblers ignore their losses and focus on their rarer and hopefully larger wins, working against their own best interests.

There are several parallels between animal and human gambling. For example, pigeons that live in enriched environments make less risky choices, which matches human studies finding that people who are satisfied with their lives also tend to gamble less than those who are dissatisfied. And hungry pigeons, like people with less money, tend to gamble more, despite the obvious downsides of taking risks when you have more to lose.

* Each year, during the winter, thousands of giant Australian cuttlefish gather on the southern coast of the continent to mate. The competition between males for the females is intense. On average, four males fight over each female, but the ratio can be as high as eleven to one. Each large male, who wins the challenges, guards his mate closely. But do the little guys give up ? They disguise themselves as females, according to research done by marine biologists at Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory, taking on a mottled colouring, hiding some arms and altering the shape of the visible ones. They sneak in under the rock where the female lives, impregnate her and then leave. The team also found that the mimics could change their appearance as fast as 10 times in 15 minutes. The mimicry is sophisticated, and the pace at which they are able to change is incredible. Reminds me of the men that pretended to be eunuchs in order to access royal harems. 

To join the animal welfare movement contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , www.peopleforanimalsindia.org

  • Written by Denis Giles
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Would You Want to be a Meth Addict?

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Some time ago I wrote an article about the cocktail of drugs in meat in India. One of the drugs that I mentioned was Ractopamine.

Ractopamine is a feed additive, to promote muscle growth and less fat in animals raised for their meat. It increases the weight inspite of giving 10%  less food. Ractopamine (RAC) is fed to an estimated 80% of cattle, pigs and turkeys raised in the United States and in 27 other countries including India. In other countries it is fed to lambs as well.

It is the active ingredient in products, known as Paylean for swine and Optaflexx for cattle.

As of  2013, it is banned in 160 countries. Including Russia and China. Even in America, under public pressure, the USDA has approved of a new label, "No ractopamine — a beta-agonist growth promotant", on beef and pork.

It has not been allowed in the 28 member countries of the European Union, based on the 2009 European Food Safety Authority's opinion on its safety evaluation, which concluded that available data is insufficient to derive a maximum residue limit as a 'safe residue level for human consumption'.

Only 27 countries allow it.

India is the top user and supplying country in the world – supplying 100% of ractopamine to countries in Eastern Europe, Eastern Asia, and Central America. It is sold in powdered form as a cattle feed, swine and poultry feed additive .

An American law student, who had also majored in biochemistry, had applied for an internship for an organization that was examining the regulatory approval of ractopamine in the United States. During this process he read my article and he sent the findings of the research organization to me to see whether I could bring it to the attention of the government of India. This was it :

In 2014, a group of researchers performed a study of ractopamine. This research group studies addiction to methamphetamine. One of them had noticed the molecular structures of meth and ractopamine were very similar. Their work found that ractopamine activates a cell receptor called TAAR1, which is one of the primary receptors of meth.

Methamphetamine is a powerful, highly addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system. Its street names are  blue, crystal, ice, meth, and speed. People take it by smoking, swallowing pills, snorting and injecting powder that has been dissolved in water/alcohol.

Methamphetamine increases the amount of the natural chemical, dopamine, in the brain. Dopamine is involved in body movement, motivation, and reinforcement of rewarding behaviours. The drug’s ability to rapidly release high levels of dopamine, in reward areas of the brain, makes the user want to repeat the experience.

Taking even small amounts of methamphetamine can result in increased wakefulness and physical activity, decreased appetite, faster breathing, rapid and/or irregular heartbeat, increased blood pressure and body temperature . Methamphetamine use can also alter judgment and decision-making, leading to risky behaviour. Its long term effects impair thinking, understanding, learning, and remembering, extreme weight loss, severe dental problems ("meth mouth"), intense itching, skin sores from scratching, anxiety, changes in brain structure and function, with reduced coordination and impaired verbal learning, confusion, memory loss, sleeping problems, violent behaviour, paranoia and hallucinations

A recent study suggests that people, who once used methamphetamine, have an increased risk of developing Parkinson's disease, a disorder of the nerves that affects movement. A methamphetamine overdose often leads to a stroke, heart attack, or organ problems. Methamphetamine is highly addictive.

Why am telling you about meth?

Because ractopamine does the same thing.

According to a study done in 2014, by Liu, Grandy and Janowsky of Knight Cardiovascular Institute, Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience(A.J.), and The Methamphetamine Abuse Research Center, Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, Oregon, and printed in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, Ractopamine (RAC) is a full agonist of the Trace Amine-Associated Receptor ( TAAR1). When used as a food additive, ractopamine, added to feed, is distributed by the blood to the muscle tissues, where it serves as a full agonist.

The scientists concluded that “Since TAAR1-mediated signalling can influence cardiovascular tone and behavior in  animal models, these findings should stimulate future studies to characterize the pharmacological, physiological, and behavioral actions of RAC in humans exposed to this drug. The results of such an analysis are likely to be of interest to those concerned about animal welfare, the meat-eating public, the scientific community, and policymakers.”

Taar1 is also a receptor for methamphetamine . These two research papers conclude that methamphetamine is an agonist for TAAR1



What is a cell receptor? What is an agonist?

When a drug is taken, we expect it to do what it claims to do. But how does the ibuprofen pill turn off your headache? Or the sleeping pill help you to sleep?

Drug processes are about receptors, and the molecules that activate them. Receptors are large protein molecules embedded in the cell wall, or membrane. They receive chemical information from other molecules – such as drugs – outside the cell. These outside molecules bind to receptors on the cell, activating them and generating a biochemical, or electric, signal inside the cell. This signal then makes the cell do certain things, such as making us feel dizzyor happy.

Those molecules, that bind to specific receptors and cause the cell to become more active, are called agonists.

TAAR1 is TRACE AMINE ASSOCIATED RECEPTOR. It affects the nervous and immune system functions. TAAR1 is a high-affinity receptor for amphetamine, dopamine, methamphetamine.

What are the effects on animals after being fed ractopamine? In pigs, ractopamine causes hyperactivity, tremors in the limbs, an increase in the heart rate and broken limbs. Colorado University Professor of Animal Science, Temple Grandin, describes the effects of ractopamine on cattle with stiff, sore, and lame limbs, and increased heat stress. Other effects include restlessness, agitation, excessive oral-facial movements, and aggressive behaviour. In a study published in the Journal of Animal Science, when scientists studied the effects of ractopamine in pigs over a four week period, they found that pigs had higher heart rates and, higher catecholamine (a hormone produced during times of stress). USDA meat inspectors found that ractopamine increased the number of lame pigs. USDA asked for drug manufacturers to add a warning label to ractopamine in 2002.

Ractopamine has significant known health impacts on animals. It effects include toxicity and other exposure risks, such as behavioural changes and cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, reproductive, and endocrine problems.

The metabolic reaction of ractopamine hydrochloride is similar in pigs and cattle, laboratory animals, and humans. It is very possible that any consumption by humans, of the meat of animals that consumed ractopamine, may result in such clinical effects as tachycardia and other heart rate increases, tremor, headache, muscle spasm, or high arterial blood pressure.  consumption of products that contain ractopamine residues is not advisable for persons with cardiovascular diseases.

Data from the European Food Safety Authority indicates that ractopamine causes elevated heart rates, and heart-pounding sensations, in humans. Other examples of health problems include information from the Sichuan Pork Trade Chamber of Commerce in China, which estimates that between 1998 and 2010, 1,700 people were poisoned from eating pork containing ractopamine.

The side-effects of ractopamine, on both animals and humans (increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, loss of bone density, cardiomyopathy, etc.), all match those of meth.

Would you want to be a meth addict? Do you want your child to be one? What could be the reason for the huge increase in heart disease, attacks and strokes? Could it be the drug being fed to the animals you eat?

To join the animal welfare movement contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , www.peopleforanimalsindia.org

  • Written by Denis Giles
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