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Planet Earth

Menopause in Matrilineal Whales

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanAugust 30, 2007 10:50 AM

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I've talked about menopause a fair amount on this blog, usually in relation to the Grandmother Hypothesis. So I thought I'd pass along this article, Eusociality, menopause and information in matrilineal whales, along. I know that many think that menopause is something that will naturally happen if a mammal lives long enough, as opposed to being an adaptation. I'm generally skeptical of this. The one physical anthropologist who I've talked to and who has explored the topic kept reiterating to me how contingent and interlocking the physiological cascades which shut down the reproductive cycle were. In contrast males tend to exhibit less fertility over time as their body just breaks down with age. Finally, of course it seems that even if there was some physiological process which would result in menopause if life history was pushed far enough down the line, over time adaptations should mask such enforced sterility (e.g., a new genetic variant which masks this phenotype).

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