Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/01/02/sheep_research/

Scientists look to straighten homosexual sheep

Gay rights campaigners slam US research

By Lester Haines

Posted in Science, 2nd January 2007 15:05 GMT

Former Wimbledon champion Martina Navratilova has come out in favour of the rights of homosexual sheep in a burgeoning row over tests carried out by two US universities aimed at "curing" ovine friends of Dorothy.

According to The Times, researchers at Oregon State University in the city of Corvallis and at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland were able to "pinpoint the mechanisms influencing the desires of 'male-oriented' rams by studying their brains".

Specifically, they cut open the offending sheeps' skulls, attached electonic sensors to their grey matter and monitored them while "varying the hormone levels, mainly by injecting hormones into the brain". They reported "considerable success" in getting previously gay rams to consider a bit of boy-on-girl.

The purpose behind these experiments is to "improve the productivity of herds" since "approximately one ram in 10 prefers to mount other rams rather than mate with ewes". The implications are far more sinister, opponents claim, since the acquired knowledge could in the future be used to "cure" human homosexuality, or may offer the prospect that "pregnant women could one day be offered a [hormone] treatment to reduce or eliminate the chance that their offspring will be homosexual".

Ms Navratilova weighed in with: "How can it be that in the year 2006 a major university would host such homophobic and cruel experiments?"

UK gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell declared: "These experiments echo Nazi research in the early 1940s which aimed at eradicating homosexuality. They stink of eugenics. There is a danger that extreme homophobic regimes may try to use these experimental results to change the orientation of gay people."

Udo Schuklenk, Professor of Bioethics at Glasgow Caledonian University, who has "written to the researchers pressing them to stop", added: "I don't believe the motives of the study are homophobic, but their work brings the terrible possibility of exploitation by homophobic societies. Imagine this technology in the hands of Iran, for example. It is typical of the US to ignore the global context in which this is taking place."

Professor Charles Roselli, the Health and Science University biologist heading the research programme, defended his work with: "In general, sexuality has been under-studied because of political concerns. People don't want science looking into what determines sexuality."

Michael Bailey, a neurology professor at Northwestern University near Chicago, risked the wrath of the gay community by stating: "Allowing parents to select their children’s sexual orientation would further a parent's freedom to raise the sort of children they want to raise."

As for the unfortunate gay rams subjected to the research teams' uninvited attentions, it remained for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to slam their sufferings as "a needless slaughter of animals, an affront to human dignity and a colossal waste of precious research funds". ®