1.11 Wrapping Up: Why use sex to study biology?

Why use sex to study biology?

The authors of this text maintain that by studying the evolution and biology of sex, we can understand much of the science of biology. Further, we think sex is fascinating and suspect many of our students feel the same way.

Critically, sex can help us illustrate many key features of science in general, specifically biology. For example:

a. Learn biology, save a life. Simply, biology is the study of life. By studying life, we can understand how to preserve our own lives, and how to live our lives to the fullest. And we’ve already discussed one example (e.g., HPV and cervical cancer) in which the connection between sex and death is evident. We’ll discuss many others in the following chapters.

b. Science: it’s all about asking questions. While we’ll certainly present some established facts in these pages, we will emphasize questions and the processes by which scientists answer them, rather than focusing on answers themselves. And sex is a perfect vehicle for this discussion, because we still don’t know many things about sex and sexual reproduction. We don’t know the purpose of male masturbation, exactly how a single sperm is “selected” to fertilize an egg, how to effectively combat HIV (a virus we’ve been fighting for over 30 years), how and why homosexuality evolved, why sex and gender can vary so much, whether female orgasm serves a reproductive function, the occurrence of asexuality, and so on…For all of the above, we have ideas and testable hypotheses (that we’ll discuss), but we don’t have answers.

c. Science (or biology, specifically) is a social endeavor. However, we’ll have many opportunities to illustrate that scientific questions are raised and addressed by people, often restricted by limited resources (time, money), often biased (hopefully unintentionally), and likely prone to error. We will encourage you to trust the process of science (one that is subject to review, replication, and revision) rather than the individual scientists themselves.

 

As we conclude this chapter and prepare for in-class discussion, be sure to return to the chapter’s goals and objectives.

Please note that we’ll have many opportunities to exercise the above skills throughout the course. However, we hope you can begin the discussion with a basic understanding of the process of science. In the following chapters, we hope you’ll develop an appreciation of how the study of sex can give you a good foundation in the basics of biology, specifically evolution, molecular genetics, and reproduction.

License

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The Evolution and Biology of Sex by Sehoya Cotner and Deena Wassenberg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.