and the UNeXpLaiNed ©Copyrighted by Dave Ayotte & Caty Bergman

UNX: Freaks of Nature

TOC (Table Of Contents)



The following quotes are from a book by Mark S. Blumberg called "Freaks of Nature: What Anomalies Tell Us About Development and Evolution" that we borrowed from the Seattle Public Library. To read more about this book, please go to our blog post about it here:

"Beyond voyeurism and fine art, freaks provide ready access to some essential truths about the development and evolution of animal form and behavior, and about the individual potential within each of us." [1]

"But it will also become clear that these 'unexpected' novelties are not randomly produced. On the contrary, as Pere Alberch observed, there is a logic to monsters." [2]

"In fact, cyclopia and its associated defects are known collectively as holoprosencephaly, a name that highlights the failure of the forebrain to divide into two separate halves. The incidence of holoprosencephaly may be as hight as 1 in 250 fetuses, but because most of them do not survive term, only about 1 in 16,000 infants are actually born with this condition. In the most severe cases, including cyclopia, nearly all will die within one week." [3]

FROM: "The Morphology of Cosmobia; Speculations Concerning the Significnace of Certain Types of Monsters"
written by Harris Hawthorne Wilder for the "American Journal of Anatomy"
Volume 8, Issue 1, pages 355-440, 1908 (specifically p. 368 for this quote):

"'a cause existing in the germ, or applied during the very early stages of development' through which the full range of monsters could be created artificially." [4]

"By germ, Wilder meant the genetic material contained within sperm and egg." [5]

"Charles Stockard" [6]

"As is so often the case in science, the value of (George) Papaniclolaou's idea projected far beyond Stockard's relatively narrow concerns. Years later, he was to make the serendipitous observation that the vaginal cells of some women are abnormal. He surmised that the presence of such abnormal cells predicts cervical cancer, still one of the leading causes of death among women. Working against an incredulous medical community, he was finally able to publish his findings in a major professional journal in 1941. Papanicolaou's method, originally devised to help Stockard identify guinea pigs in heat, is now known as the Pap smear." [7]

"But time matters. As Stockard demonstrated in a variety of ways, the prodiction of cyclopic and two-headed minnows is limited to a narrow is limited to a narrow window of opportunity - he called them 'moments of supremacy'; today, we generally refer to them as sensitive or critical periods. For example, when Stockard exposed embryonic minnows to cool temperatures, he produced monsters of all kinds - but only if the exposure occurred within the first twenty-four hours after fertilization. In contrast, if Stackard waited more than twenty-four hours, he encountered what he called a 'moment of indifference.' Nothing remarkable happened." [8]

"After ferilization, the first such transformative period is gastrulagtion, a process in which the newly fertilized egg begins to form descernivle layers that will eventually develop into skin, gut, and brain. In addition, the primary axes of the body are established at this time, including the distinction between front and back, and top and bottom. In short, gastrulation is a moment of supremacy - of profound reorganization - of rapid and complex change. It is during gastrulation that embryonic development is most easily disrupted by the kinds of manipulations that Stockard used. Although the result of these manipulations to the embryos is often death, many of those embryos that survive develop abnormally, exhibiting a variety of malformations that includes cyclopia and twinning." [9]

"[H. H.] Wilder was wrong to think that monsters could arise only via a genetic mechanism, encoded in egg or sperm; as Stockard demonstrated, environmental factors can reliably alter the course of development to produce monsters. Still, Wilder was not completely wront for example, as is now known, genetic mutations underlie some cases of cyclopedia, especially those that run in families. Moreover, we should not forget that even environmental factors can produce their effects by modifying the activity of genes or the action of their products.

"In other words, both Wilder and Stockard were right and wrong, their disagreement reflecting an either - or dichotomous mentality concerning the developmental roles of genes environmental. This mentality continues to confuse many people to day.

"But this confusion evaporates by reorienting our thinking. The key is to appreciate that development arises through a network of genetic and nongenetic interactions cascading through time. Within that nertwork, developmental events that rely on a particular gene in one instance can occur through environmental influences in another. As we will examine further in Chapter 5, sex chromosomes are absent in some animals - for example, turtle and crocodiles - but this does not prevent them from developing into males or females.

"In such species, incubation temperature replaces the need for sex chromosomes: We say that the effect of temperature on the developmental network is interchangeable with the genetic mechanism that triggers the same process in, for example, haumans and dogs. Similarly, cyclopia and it's and its related conditions - again, known collectively as holoprosencephaly - can arise through either a genetic mutation or an environmental disturbance (for example, if the mother has diabetes or consumes alcohol), but in either case, the same developmental network is being modified. Clearly, we could be wrong to label all infants with holoprosencephaly as mutants." [10]

"The search for the mechanisms that produced holoprosencephaly in all its forms took its biggest step forward in the 1960s as a result of a cyclopia epidemic among sheep in Utah. [11]



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Freaks of Nature: What Anomalies Tell Us About Development and Evolution
                    Copyright © 2009 by Mark S. Blumberg


[1] Freaks of Nature, p. 17.
      [2] ibid., p. 54.
      [3] ibid., p. 56-57.
      [4] ibid., p. 65.
      [5] ibid., p. 66.
      [6] ibid., p. 67.
      [7] ibid., p. 68.
      [8] ibid., p. 78.
      [9] ibid., p. 80.
     [10] ibid., p. 81-82.
     [11] ibid., p. 83.
     [12] ibid., p. .
     [13] ibid., p. .
     [14] ibid., p. .
     [15] ibid., p. .




LAST UPDATED: January 19, 2011
by myself and Caty.