MRA “Science” madness!


If ever I run out of creationist pseudoscience (it will never happen), I can always turn to another source, the Men's Rights movement, especially their radical anti-woman wing. Here's a prime example from RooshV: Research Suggests That A Woman’s Body Incorporates DNA From The Semen Of Her Casual Sex Partners. Would you be surprised if I told you that everything in that title is wrong? Would you be shocked to learn that everything Roosh concludes from misreading that research is also wrong?

The above study has two seismic implications. The first is that a woman can absorb enough DNA during her lifetime that it changes her phenotype (i.e. her appearance and overall health state). There could be some truth to the phrase “slut face” in which highly promiscuous women suffer a change to their appearance because of all the variable sperm from different males that have been deposited inside them.

The second implication stems from the fact that it’s scientifically conclusive that single mothers have DNA of their bastard children residing permanently within their bodies. Any man who reproduces with a single mom will have a child that contains DNA from the bastard spawn, which of course includes DNA from the absentee father. This means that men can be genetically cuckolded without being traditionally cuckolded, and that having a baby with a single mom is essentially giving the father of her first child a bonus prize in the game of evolution.

There's literally nothing correct in any of that mess. Nothing. Roosh has imposed his faulty, biased interpretation on the work in a way that would certainly horrify the authors.

The original research studies microchimerism, the incorporation of a small number of cells of a different genetic background into an individual. This happens! It's been repeatedly confirmed. There is no fusion of DNA into the host, however; what happens is that cells from a foreign individual get infused into the host, tumble about, and take up transient residence throughout the body. It's been noted in blood transfusions into people with severe trauma -- some of the donor blood cells infiltrate tissues through lesions. It also happens during pregnancy. Pregnancy involves very intimate, long-term association between the fetal placenta and the maternal endometrium -- those tissues interdigitate and basically fuse together, nutrients and blood flow between them, and some cells also migrate between the two genetically different humans.

This exchange is relatively easily observed ("relatively": it involves examining the tissues of women who died during pregnancy for fetal markers, which are very thinly scattered). One of the easiest markers to look for is the Y chromosome: the mother's cells lack it, but any cells derived from a male fetus will carry it, so you just scan through lots and lots of cells, counting Y chromosomes.

The answer is that there are some, but they are very thin on the ground. One study found that less than 0.05% of the cells in the lungs were microchimeric, fetal cells…and the lungs, with their dense capillary beds, were the richest source. Most other tissues had significantly less than 0.01% fetal cells. Note that these measurements were made in pregnant women, when there is a continuous influx of fetal cells, and so is probably the highest frequency that would be observed. Male microchimeras have been found in much older, non-pregnant women, so some of these cells can persist for a lifetime, but I would expect the numbers to drop rapidly after pregnancy.

Also, semen is highly unlikely to be a source of microchimeras. Sperm are highly specialized cells that don't live long -- they're entirely gone within days. The few other cell types (for instance, white blood cells) are going to be far lower in dose than what you get from pregnancy. It's simply silly to suggest that there is significant incorporation of your sex partner's cells.

Given the tiny numbers and the insignificant contribution of microchimeric cells, the idea that semen modifies women's appearance to give them "slut face", whatever that is, isn't just stupid -- it's daft. It's also rather insulting to males: essentially 100% of the cells in our faces have Y chromosomes. We must have really slutty faces.

So no, his first claim is absolutely false. Women do not absorb enough DNA during her lifetime that it changes her phenotype -- there is nothing in any of the papers to suggest such a thing. For one thing, they don't absorb DNA -- they are colonized by a minuscule number of fetal cells during pregnancy. These cells represent a tiny fraction of the total, and no, they do not make a genetic contribution to change her phenotype.

The second claim is messier, but also false. There have been observations of second generation microchimeras in fetuses -- that is, the mother contains a tiny fraction of microchimeric cells from a previous pregnancy, and a tiny fraction of those cross into the placenta of the fetus, and an even tinier fraction of those can get incorporated into fetal tissues. (I suppose it's also likely that you could have third generation microchimeras, but there's a tinier and tinier fraction of a fraction in each generation). So yes, if your partner had been pregnant by another male before, any subsequent pregnancies might incorporate a vanishingly small number of the previous male's cells in the fetus.

However, this isn't an example of any kind of genetic freeloading. If anything, it means that a few of those previous male's cells might get enslaved to contribute to the somatic tissues of your child: the germ line, the cells that produce the gonads of the child and are going to produce your grandchildren, are set aside very early in development and are not going to incorporate the microchimeras, especially since the microchimeras consist of primarily previously differentiated cells that are not in the totipotent state of a germ cell. There is no genetic cuckolding going on. I just have to roll my eyes at this paranoia of MRAs.

It's also not going to make any kind of evolutionary contribution.

So relax. Biology is messy. There are cells of all sorts slopping about, especially during sex and pregnancy -- I think the exchange of cells from your microbiomes almost certainly has a bigger effect on your offspring than a few rare microchimeric cells. And no, the cells in semen don't invade women and turn them into sluts, and no, your former partner's cells aren't suddenly going to rise up and impregnate you, months or years after a pregnancy.

Rijnink EC, Penning ME, Wolterbeek R, Wilhelmus S, Zandbergen M, van Duinen SG, Schutte J, Bruijn JA, Bajema IM. (2015) Tissue microchimerism is increased during pregnancy: a human autopsy study. Mol Hum Reprod.[Epub ahead of print]

Chan WF, Gurnot C, Montine TJ, Sonnen JA, Guthrie KA, Nelson JL. (2012) Male microchimerism in the human female brain. PLoS One. 7(9):e45592.

More like this

Today's NYT describes a new strategy for Down Syndrome screening. The new test, developed by a company called Sequenom, screens the mother's blood sample for fragments of RNA produced from fetal chromosomes. Dr. Lo looked for genes on Chromosome 21 that were active in the fetus but not in the…
Menstruation is a peculiar phenomenon that women go through on a roughly monthly cycle, and it's not immediately obvious from an evolutionary standpoint why they do it. It's wasteful — they are throwing away a substantial amount of blood and tissue. It seems hazardous; ancestrally, in a world full…
tags: evolution, evolutionary biology, gynandromorph, bilateral gynandromorph bird, half-sider, mixed-sex chimaera, sex determination, molecular biology, genetics, developmental biology, endocrinology, birds, chicken, Gallus gallus, ornithology,,peer-reviewed research, peer-…
This is awesome news. Biologists have figured out how to enable two male mice to have babies together, with no genetic contribution from a female mouse. I, for one, look forward to our future gay rodent overlords. It was a clever piece of work. Getting progeny from two male parents has a couple of…

How did you come to the conclusion that Roosh is an MRA?

By Robert O'Hara (not verified) on 09 Sep 2015 #permalink

The most obvious way to come to the conclusion that Roosh is an MRA would be to read his writing. For example, his argument to legalize rape on private property. Yes, he's a pickup artist, and some PUAs vehemently claim not to be MRAs. Roosh isn't one of them. He's been fawningly interviewed by by A Voice for Men.

By Scott Hamilton (not verified) on 09 Sep 2015 #permalink

"How did you come to the conclusion that Roosh is an MRA?"

Reality and what he writes.

"So why have Manospherians, Pickup Artists, Incels, MGTOWs, GamerGaters, “slut haters,” Dark Enlightenment “thinkers,” and assorted other types of woman-hating nitwits all found themselves labelled MRAs, much to the chagrin of some self-declared MRAs?

Well, dudes, it’s actually pretty simple: because no one but you — and close followers of the New Misogyny, like the readers of this blog — can tell the difference between any of these groups of people. Because 90% of the backwards beliefs you espouse are exactly the same."…

So wouldn't monogamous women get saturated with the DNA of their spouse? Instead of 'slut face' they'd have 'hubby face'?

By Rosie Redfield (not verified) on 09 Sep 2015 #permalink

Caroline @ 5: "The New Misogyny" Congratulations, excellent meme, I'll be spreading it far & wide. Is that yours?

Speaking of Kleenex (your linked article), those guys need to practice "better objectivity through Onanism."


Good grief!, they really _are_ motivated by pure genetic selfishness, and they aren't even shy about it. Every sentence that Roosh guy wrote is just saturated with it. Textbook case, clinical study wit N =1, and all that. Here I've been thinking of genetic greed as an abstraction that's reflected in the culture only "indirectly," and there they are parading it around like a banner.

In an overpopulated world, the last thing we need are people fighting over their "superior" DNA. That is also the root of racism and much other evil.

Between now and the day they can be vasectomized while they aren't looking, they should be mocked relentlessly for their genetic greed and narcissistic attitude. "Yes, Roosh, it really IS all about you: no woman in her right mind would have anything to do with such an outrageous creep." (And, Roosh, take it from a guy who loves guys, no guy in his right mind would ask you out for a date either.)

"So wouldn’t monogamous women get saturated with the DNA of their spouse? Instead of ‘slut face’ they’d have ‘hubby face’?"

Yes exactly - which is one explanation why older couples who've been together for awhile tend to look more alike as they grow older. Like it or not some of this folksy wisdom that was handed down for thousands of years probably has some elements of truth to it. Yes I know we have iphones which automatically makes us superior to anyone who has ever lived, wiser than anyone who ever put quill to parchment, but the level of arrogance that belief entails is gigantic and in this neck of the woods, endemic.

If MRAs don't want to be associated with Roosh, they're going to have to stop sharing his core beliefs.

By Frederick (not verified) on 10 Sep 2015 #permalink

I have read that Roosh has a degree in microbiology. I think his schooling failed and the only absorption he experienced during those years was not of biology.

By GardenGallivant (not verified) on 10 Sep 2015 #permalink

So we can put it in the same category as muddleheaded concepts like the patriarchy and rape culture. You feminists and Mras are all the same; peddling claptrap.

@Remo: ' “So wouldn’t monogamous women get saturated with the DNA of their spouse? Instead of ‘slut face’ they’d have ‘hubby face’?”

Yes exactly – which is one explanation why older couples who’ve been together for awhile tend to look more alike as they grow older. Like it or not some of this folksy wisdom that was handed down for thousands of years probably has some elements of truth to it.'

Except that your "explanation" is completely made up and based on a radical misunderstanding of what the blog post is saying.

Even if some long-term couples do appear to grow more physically alike as they get older---and I'm not disputing that this is a phenomenon that can happen, although I suspect that social factors and/or the general physical "smoothing" of the aging process account for most or all of it---there's absolutely zero evidence to suggest that microchimeras contribute to it in any detectable way.

As the blog post pointed out, microchimeric cells are contributed to women's bodies by fetuses during pregnancy, not by sex partners. If the hypothesis that microchimeras could affect women's facial appearance over time were actually true instead of being nonsense, we'd see women tending to look more like their children as they age, not like their husbands.

"How did you come to the conclusion that Roosh is an MRA?"

That's your takeaway? Honestly? Nothing about the actual content or scientific analysis?

Roosh is, as usual, very disturbing and creepy. But you made fun of him and I laughed out loud at your very informative post. Thank you for that.

"Yes exactly – which is one explanation why older couples who’ve been together for awhile tend to look more alike as they grow older. "

No they most certainly do not. And that's such a stupid thing to say that it hurts my brain to think about it.

No, a white person can't ever turn into a black person from sleeping with one. You can't develop the ability to roll up your tongue from sleeping with someone who can do it. Your earlobes don't become attached/detached, your eye color doesn't turn blue or green, a blond doesn't slowly turn into a redhead,

Old people of the same race start to look vaguely similar, and then only if you squint your eyes, solely because they are old. Gray hair, decayed teeth, wrinkly skin.

That's it and none of that has anything to do with genetic exchange. Jesus.

Ironic coming from a man whose primary goal in life is to insert his own sperm into as many women as possible.

By Awithonelison (not verified) on 11 Sep 2015 #permalink

@Remo: In addition to what others here have said, couples who have been together for a long time tend to subconciously pick up and develop similar mannerisms and non-verbal communication cues that make them appear more alike than they physically actually are. That happens when you spend a lot of time with someone, no pseudoscientific midi-chlorian transfusion theories necessary. Plus, your explanation has some unfortunate implications regarding the quite similar "folksy wisdom" about owners and pets starting to look alike after a while.

@rv: Except that rape culture and the patriarchy are concepts that describe social phenomena, not biological systems, and there has been actual research on these subjects. Roosh's bullshit is based on a grave misunderstanding of a studied biological phenomenon, and serves no purpose other than to support his regressive stance on gender roles. Anyway, to paraphrase a cliché, the important thing is that you've found a way to feel superior to both feminists and MRAs.

By Anarchonist (not verified) on 11 Sep 2015 #permalink