Monthly Archives: November 2015

Born this way!

A symposium on multidisciplinary approaches to sexuality and gender

On November 24th, researchers from several institutions came together with over 100 delegates in Darwin College to discuss a variety of perspectives aimed at understanding the biological basis of sex, sexual orientation, and gender. Jointly hosted by CISoR and the Biological Anthropology research group in the School of Anthropology and Conservation the workshop considered perspectives from biology, psychology, anthropology, and sociology. The audience was treated to a journey from the chromosome, through a prism of the mind and culture, ending with fully applied perspectives.

Overall it showed a variety of viewpoints on a complicated topic and facilitated conversation and lively debate across disciplines.


Participants in the ‘Born this way’ workshop. Back row (left to right): John Gilmore, Steve Lyon, Jamie Lawson, Oskar Burger, Carin Tunaker. Front row: Marian Duggan, Gerulf Rieger, Diana Fleischman, Peter Goodfellow, and Sarah Johns.

Peter Goodfellow (University of Kent) gave an overview of how chromosomes influence the biology of sex, highlighting decades of his research on the role of how the SRY gene determines sex in mammals, including humans. This was followed by Gerulf Rieger (University of Essex) who has looked for interesting links between childhood gender non-conformity and sexual orientation during adulthood. Diana Fleischman (University of Portsmouth) presented fascinating work about how sexual activity is a form of “making affiliations” among people, suggesting that same-sex sexual contact is no more mysterious than any other form of social bonding or contact. Jamie Lawson (University of Durham) used an innovative ‘Q-step’ methodology to show how problematic gender categories can be in failing to capture actual associations in the terms people use to describe gender. Steve Lyon (University of Durham) then gave a fully ethnographic example from Pakistan, where sex between men is often not linked to homosexuality and a third gender of people (the Khwaja Sara) are often raised apart from their families where they may receive some protection from a social environment that can treat gender non-conformists harshly. Steve’s work also linked to problems of low rates of condom usage and how this affects the spread of HIV. The final speaker of the day, Marian Duggan (University of Kent), showed how attitudes toward same-sex marriage have changed globally and gave a detailed sociological analysis of the recent referendum in Northern Ireland.

After the series of six talks the event concluded with a panel discussion and debate. The expert panel included the six speakers along with John Gilmore (Canterbury Christ’s Church University), Sarah Johns (University of Kent), Carin Tunaker (University of Kent), and Darren Griffin (University of Kent). The discussants, with audience input, addressed challenging topics such as how to understand homophobia, and its causes, as well as what types of research should be prioritized (or avoided) based on concerns of ethics vs. scientific freedom. While difficult topics were certainly addressed, all participants seemed to think that more dialogue of this type should happen in the future.



Conference: Policing Pregnancy: A one-day conference on maternal autonomy, risk and responsibility

Wednesday 13 April 2016, Royal College of Physicians, London

A collaboration between British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), Birthrights and the Centre for Parenting Culture Studies. The event is of interest to practitioners, advocates, academics, policy makers, journalists – and anyone else who is concerned about the expansion of risk thinking and its effects for the autonomy and choice-making ability of women.

Eugenics: myth and reality

Ellie Lee debated the topic ‘Eugenics: myth and reality’ at The Battle of Ideas Festival at the Barbican in October.
We now have more understanding of our genes than ever before and the capacity to alter them in order to resolve congenital medical conditions. Other techniques that change our germlines – our heritable characteristics – are also on their way, such as the CRISPR/Cas9 technique recently used by Chinese scientists to ‘edit’ the genes of a human embryo. But such developments often inspire resistance and are described as ‘eugenic’. But do today’s breakthroughs really resemble past horrors or are these simply invoked by those who fear gene manipulation today? This debate filmed at the Battle of Ideas clarifies much, not least the history of eugenics which bears little resemblance to the breakthroughs worth embracing now. The speakers were: Dr Chris Gyngell, Dr Lesley Hall, Dr Ellie Lee, Güneş Taylor and the chair was Sandy Starr communications officer, Progress Educational Trust.’
The proceedings can be viewed at

Kent-Ghent Again

Ellie Lee and Jan Macvarish have continued the the Kent-Ghent connection, visiting Ghent  to discuss ‘Families, Relationships, Parenting and Reproduction’ Jan gave a paper on ‘Neuroparenting: what becomes of the parent?’ and Ellie gave a paper on ‘Parenting Culture and Moral Jeopardy’ Both Ellie and Jan have also been active in “spiked online” recently as follows:
‘No, you’re not what your mother ate’ by Ellie Lee,  and ‘The Real Battle Over Breasts’ by Jan Macvarish

Surrogacy UK Working Group Report Published

Kirsty Horsey is a co-author of a recently published Surrogacy UK (SUK) Working Group report dealing with Surrogacy Law Reform, specifically to highlight the need for urgent reform of surrogacy law in the UK. The Working Group aimed to give a voice to those involved in surrogacy – either as intended parents, surrogates or professionals in the field – as well as to interrogate and dispel a number of pervasive ‘surrogacy myths’ that have informed debate in recent years.  The report, published in November 2015, concludes that the time is ripe to embark upon reform of surrogacy law and regulation in the UK, and makes a series of recommendations to that effect, all with the underlying aim or protecting the best interests of children born via surrogacy.  Also involved are Natalie Smith and Sarah Jones, trustees of Surrogacy UK; Sarah Norcross, Director of the Progress Educational Trust (PET) and Louisa Ghevaert, an expert in surrogacy, fertility and parenting law at Michelmores LLP. 

The full report can be found here.


Wealthy people may be likely to oppose redistribution of wealth 

According to new research published by Robbie Sutton and co-workers, this may be because they have biased information about how wealthy most people actually are. Published in the journal “Psychological Science”, the findings indicate that people use their own neighbourhoods and communities as a gauge of how much wealth other people possess, leading wealthy people to perceive the broader population as being wealthier than it actually is.

“If you’re rich, there’s a good chance you know lots of other rich people and relatively few poor people; likewise, if you’re poor, you’re likely to know fewer wealthy people and more poorer ones,” said Robbie. 

“These results suggest that the rich and poor do not simply have different attitudes about how wealth should be distributed across society; rather, they subjectively experience living in different societies,” adds psychological scientist Rael Dawtry here at the University of Kent, the study’s lead author. 

The research, also co-authored by Chris Sibley of the University of Auckland, recruited over 600 US adults to complete an online survey in two studies. The participants were asked to estimate the distribution of annual household income for their social contacts and also for the entire US population.

According to Robbie, the findings may also help to explain the political polarization observed in countries liked the United States. He added “As richer and poorer people increasingly live segregated lives, the information available to becomes increasingly distorted, and increasingly different.”

Scientists testing for ‘gay gene’ say predictions are ‘70% accurate’

Darren Griffin gave a skeptical, and widely quoted response to reports out of UCLA where a group of scientists claimed to be able to predict whether a man is attracted to the same or opposite sex by looking at his DNA. Comparing the DNA of 47 sets of male twins, Dr Tuck Ngun said that he identified ‘epigenetic marks’ in nine areas of the human genome which are strongly linked to male homosexuality. Out of the 47 pairs of twins, 37 were pairs where one identified as straight and one as gay, and 10 pairs were both gay. They concluded that it was possible to predict a man’s sexuality with 70 per cent accuracy, just by looking at the epigenetic marks.
In a guarded response that appeared in numerous national and international media however Professor Griffin said “To claim a 70% predictive value of something as complex as homosexuality is bold indeed. I wait with bated breath for a full peer-reviewed article.”  The work has largely since been debunked by a number of scientist.

CISoR Cafe Scientifique Second Session a Success

The second in the CISoR Cafe Scientifique series built on the success on the first, proving that good things can only get better. Hosted by the Olde Beverlie pub, Kent Law School (KLS) Senior Lecturer Kirsty Horsey and KLS PhD law student Katia Neofytou shared the presentation and animated a discussion on the topic of ‘Surrogacy, Egg Sharing and Reproduction in the 21st Century’. Kirsty and Katia’s talk involved audience members to determine parentage for some fourteen different surrogate, donor and intended parent ova and sperm combinations. Pamela White, KLS, moderated a lively discussion among about 20 delegates.  The pub management once again came up trumps with a nice buffet and we look forward to Antony Blackburn-Starza challenging us to consider the question: “Should employers pay for egg freezing?” in December.



Harley Street treatment comes to Canterbury

The London Women’s Clinic (LWC) in collaboration with CISoR recently announced that it will open a new fertility centre in the St Dustan’s area. The clinic will offer a full range of fertility services including, IVF, ICSI, egg and sperm donation and PGD, with part of the treatment taking place in the Harley Street theatre and laboratory  Recent MSc in Reproductive Medicine graduate Diane Casha will be the Senior Fertility Nurse in the centre with the clinical lead provided by Anastasia Goumenou, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist.  Scientific and Managing Director of LWC Dr Kamal Ahuja (pictured) said that the key features of the Centre will be the high success rates (patients under 35 achieve 49.4% success for IVF at the Harley Street clinic), the high speed links to London and academic collaboration with the University of Kent.

To Russia with love

Developing Kent–Russian connections in April 2015 CISoR’s Dr Michael Romanov and our collaborator Dr Denis Larkin, of the Royal Veterinary College, London visited the All-Russian Research Institute for Farm Animal Genetics and Breeding in Pushkin and St Petersburg State University. They were invited seminar speakers and delivered talks about livestock and avian genetics and genomics. Highlights of the seminar were genomic selection in cattle, genome-wide diversity in sheep, and evolutionary genomics in birds. Their Russian counterparts reported studies on high throughput genome-wide genotyping of a dairy breeding stock and examination of variation in candidate genes for poultry productive and reproductive traits. The parties set up plans for continuing partnership and collaborative research.


Denis (left) and Mike (right) in the Institute’s Hall of Fame:


The Spectre of a return trip

In October 2015, Mike and Denis were re-invited for an extension seminar course followed by an international scientific meeting at the All-Russian Research Institute for Farm Animal Genetics and Breeding in Pushkin. These events coincided with the Institute’s 75th anniversary celebration. The lectures and hands-on sessions were focused on theoretical and practical aspects of contemporary genetics and genomics in livestock and birds. Their topics involved farm animal and avian genomes, genetic variation and markers, economically important genes, novel sequencing and SNP technologies, genome assembling and annotation tools. Reports at the international conference dealt with improvement of livestock (cattle, swine) and poultry species and breeds, their performance and fecundity, using genetic, genomic and transgenesis techniques. The Russian colleagues showed an interest in collaboration with the UK researchers regarding genomic applications in chicken selection.


Reproduction “motifs” in the Animal Genetics Institute interior design