Friday Weird Science: Of Testicles and Cocks

I love when I can talk about science while using words like “testicles” and “cocks”. I really should have gone into something like urology, only then I know people would probably be all serious about it. And where’s the fun in that?
Anyway, today’s Weird Science comes to you courtesy of Monica, an awesome reader of the blog at Purdue. Monica found this study courtesy of Dr. John Anderson’s Endocrinology class (Bio 559) at Purdue, which she says was amazingly awesome. I personally think any class devoted entirely to endocrinology would be pretty awesome, and when you add in a paper about testicle transplants in cocks? Heh. Heh. I would have LOVED to take that class.
(Side note: should anyone come across a paper that they happen to think is gloriously weird, do drop me a line! I’d love to hear it and it may end up on the blog! I’m always looking for new material.)
ResearchBlogging.org Berthold, A. “The transplantation of testes” Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 1944.


All right, so some of you may know that I covered before what happens when you make a rooster…less than a man. You know, remove some strategic parts. The result is called a capon. It is also called delicious.
Edibility aside, scientists had noticed long before that rooster castration produced some profound behavioral results. You all probably know what a rooster generally looks like:
the mighty rooster.png
Observe the mighty rooster.
The manliness of a rooster is displayed in several ways. First of all, you can see the comb, that big red floppy thing on its head. A proud rooster comb is highly vascularized and takes on a very rich red color. It also tends to be pretty large relative to the size of the rooster’s head.
Another example of rooster masculinity is fighting. Roosters are very aggressive, and fight often over harems of hens. They have sharp spurs on the back of their feet that can be used to do some serious damage, not to mention that large, sharp beak.
The final male trait that is important about the rooster is the voice. That loud, clear “cock-a-doodle-do”. How else would we know it was morning in Looney Tunes cartoons without it?
So what gives these roosters their manly traits? And, more importantly, what takes them away? Well, it turns out that if you take away a rooster’s fishing tackle, his berries, his cohones, his balls, his ‘nads, his bollocks (I could go on…), he becomes…less of a rooster, you could say. He basically loses all the stuff that made him masculine:
the less mightly capon.jpg
Observe the less-mighty capon.
Basically, if roosters as castrated as adults, their combs grow floppy and pink, they lose all their aggression, and their voices become an absolute monotone. If castrated younger, the change is even more severe. The combs never really grow, the spurs for fighting never develop, and the rooster nests with the hens without showing the slightest interest.
Now we know that all these effects are due to secretion of hormones from the testicles, such as testosterone. Take away the balls, you take away the testosterone, and the rooster is a rooster no more. But back in 1944, all this wasn’t known. Of course, people knew the changes that could make a capon, but they didn’t really know WHAT was happening. And then came Dr. Berthold. I really hope he liked the taste of capon.
He did a lovely series of experiments using only six roosters! The first two he made into capons. They developed as capons, no fighting, no crowing, and no combs. When he dissected them as adults, he found no sign of testes, and even the scar from where they had been removed was almost gone.
The second set of roosters only lost one testicle (did you know, by the way, that 10% of men have only one testicle? It doesn’t impair function in any way. I find this fascinating). Instead of just leaving the other one intact, Berthold severed it from its connections and just left it hangin’ in the body cavity. This was to examine whether the testicles had to be in the proper place and configuration to produce normal rooster effects.
Sure enough, the half-roosters acted like roosters, all the way down to what they did with the ladies. When these animals were dissected, the remaining testicle had actually RE-ATTACHED itself and healed in the original place. Not only that, it was a lot bigger. Apparently it showed a more than 50% increase in diameter, and showed the correct morphology. However, having been severed, the testicles remainging did not produce any sperm.
It was the final set of roosters that really brought the message home. These two had both their balls cut out, and THEN Berthold implanted a testicle from another rooster (the second two that had one removed donated to their fellow men). He basically just stuck the testicle in the body cavity and sewed it up.
And the roosters were roosters! They crowed, they fought, they drank and caroused a bachelor parties and took home prostitutes! They had full, glorious combs. And the really wild thing was that Berthold saw upon dissection. The testicles had no migrated back “home”, like the testicles from the second group had. Instead, they basically just stayed where they were. One rooster’s new junk attached itself to his caecum, a pouch at the beginning of the large intestine The other’s attached itself to the colon. Fun stuff. They even produced sperm!
So what can we conclude from this? Berthold concluded that the testicles were among organs that could be transplanted, and that they could grow and produce sperm even when away from their normal site. But he ALSO hypothesized that the productions from the testes are transferred through the blood, and thus to the rest of the organism, producing their effects on the rooster. Now we physiologists have a word for this production, something produced from one site, which travels through the bloodstream to other organs. We call it endocrine. In a way, Berthold was the first person to define a hormone, and certainly the first person to come close to deducing the mechanism of action. And thus the vast field of endocrinology (the study of hormones) was born. So hats off to Berthold, a man who was not afraid to go balls-to-the-wall, as long as it wasn’t his own balls.
Berthold, AA (1944). The transplantation of testes Bulletin of the history of medicine, 16, 399-401

23 Responses

  1. “More than a capon…less than a cock…” hmmm hmmm….
    Brilliant post!

  2. Very cool. I wonder if that could be generalized with mammals? This was very interesting! =)

  3. But the less-mighty capon appears to have grown a leg. Two testicles for a leg, anyone?

  4. Well if you were barefoot in the snow like that rooster, you’d be shifting from one foot to the other too.
    I presume the chickens were closely related so that tissue rejection was not an issue. Serendipitous choice of experimental organism so the experiment actually worked…

  5. When eunuchs have their bits removed it makes them grow abnormally long arms. Just thought you’d like to know.

  6. Trust me – reproductive biologists get pretty silly about it.
    There’s a mouse model (from a random mutagenesis screen) out there for something like hypogonadotrophic hypogonadism (poor hormone signaling = tiny gonads = lots of other repro phenotypes). When the mouse was originally generated and they were still in the process of chasing down the gene, they named the mouse according to it’s phenotype: “wee willie”
    Tee-hee!

  7. How about this Blushing study?
    “The cheek plumage patch is an amplifier of dominance in great tits.”
    Just makes you see rouge, doesn’t it? Remember finding this line of research dealing with this bird species and thinking “that would be so fun to get to put into titles” and when people ask you what you study…

  8. “When eunuchs have their bits removed it makes them grow abnormally long arms. Just thought you’d like to know.”
    Early-spayed and early-neutered kittens don’t make the biochemical that stops their limb growth on time. My cats’ vet is a researcher in early spay/neuter.
    I have three cats. The oldest one was neutered as an adult. The middle one was neutered as a four-month-old kitten. The youngest was spayed at nine or ten weeks. The two gib cats developed normally and have normal male behavior. The girl kitty has a mostly undeveloped, squeaky voice and fine kitteny fur, has out-of-proportion long limbs and tail, and bears herself like a little tomboy, engaging in male-type dominance behavior. When one of my cats howled like a fiend and busted through a window screen to try to fight a stranger cat sitting on the porch, I was unsurprised to find the culprit was the girl cat. When I brought up Miss Attitude’s behavior to the vet, he told me he was interested but not surprised.

  9. So funny!
    I took 4 graduate courses with the word “endocrinology” in the title. In one of them, Comparative Endocrinology, one of the long-essay questions at the first mid-term exam was to describe a historical, classic paper (“one you like the best”). And, guess what? I described this one by Berthold!

  10. There has got to be a really good pun here that I just can’t manage at the moment… Or at least a good joke about men and their attachment to their testicles…

  11. “did you know, by the way, that 10% of men have only one testicle? It doesn’t impair function in any way. I find this fascinating”
    After reading that, I slid my hands down my boxers to make sure I had two. Now my hands smell like fumunda cheese. Damn..

  12. From the age before the optical kind. My brother used to get a kick out of an item shelved in his computer employer’s supply room: boxes of mouse balls. Just pop in a new one as needed.
    And for course titles, neuroendocrinology has more zip than the plain kind.
    Older research papers sound like fertile ground for blogging.

  13. So, Human eunuchs have long limbs – presumably it’s legs as well as arms. Men with XXY chromozones tend to be tall, and have small testicles.
    Is the cause the same?

  14. I am expecting next week a post about http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles-%C3%89douard_Brown-S%C3%A9quard
    He started endocrinology as a science, by injecting extracts of testes (from dogs etc,) into himself!

  15. Some xenographic ball-related insanity:
    1920-23, Paris, Serge Voronoff engrafts slices of baboon balls into the nutsacks of elderly dudes. The dudes showed amazing regeneration in all aspects of their health & “vigor”, until of course they croaked. Placebo Wonderland, but men will go to any lengths to get it up!
    “Xeno, The Promise of Transplanting Animal Organs Into Humans”. Cooper, Lanza. OUP 2000.
    I knew this would come in handy some day!

  16. Heh, glad this generated such amused responses…Dr.Anderson’s class was a gold-mine of obscure and interesting papers; along with that “re-cocked” gem was one detailing the “attractivity” of vaginal secretions from human females during different phases of the menstrual cycle (Doty RL, Ford M, Preti G, Huggins GR. “Changes in the intensity and pleasantness of human vaginal odors during the menstrual cycle” 1: Science 1975 Dec 26;190(4221):1316-8.), as we had seen in a paper on rhesus monkeys that males increased the frequency of mating behaviors according to what scent the female displayed (Keverne EB, Michael RP. “Sex-attractant properties of ether extracts of vaginal secretions from rhesus monkeys” Journal of Endocrinology 1971:51, 313-NP). Well, the human paper found that none of the secretions at any stage were attractive, but that some stages were less unattractive than others! I just remember seeing that line graph, and Prof. Anderson indicating all the values as being below the “desirable” level!😄

  17. OMG, totally forgot to also mention these papers:
    This one dealt with the level of blood testosterone in a single male during coitus. I just remember Prof. Anderson speculating on which one of the researchers participated in that “event”, and his observation on the individual named “DN Love”. In one graph, it showed that masturbation did not result in the elevation of testosterone in any of 7 subjects, to which he remarked something along the lines of how ineffectual that act seemed to be. (Fox CA, Ismail AAA, Love DN, Kirkham KE, Lorain JA. “Studies on the relationship between plasma testosterone levels and human sexual activity” Journal of Endocrinology January 1972; 52: 51 – 58.)
    I also can’t forget the paper in Nature 1970; 226 (5248):869-870 by Anonymous about the “Effects of sexual activity on beard growth in man”. Apparently, this dude weighed his dried beard shavings by day; during a period of isolation from his female, the beard grew less than when she was around. Apparently, this has something to do with secondary sex characteristics (facial hair) and male hormones.
    And also from Science Nov 30:206(4422):1099-1101, about the “Coolidge Effect”, where a male mouse becomes habituated in terms of LH response to a single female over time, but when a novel second female is presented, his LH response is back up again. Now, I’m sure Prof. Anderson said something very witty about the Coolidge effect, and observed that perhaps this trend could also be seen in humans, but he didn’t know.
    And finally,about the neuroendocrine response to estrogen in females, males, and males who identified as homosexual (Gladue, Green & Hellman. “Neuroendocrine response to estrogen and sexual orientation in humans.” Science 1984, 225:1496) The graph shows an intermediate response in LH response for homosexual men; they had a greater response than heterosexual men, but a lesser response than females. I think Dr.A was suggesting that hormones play a very important role in sexual behavior not just in animals, as we had also, similarly, just seen papers on male and female rhesus monkeys that behaved and showed different endocrine responses to the application of estrogen or testosterone both during early development (organizational effects of hormones) and at puberty (activational effects of hormones).
    And now that I’ve spammed the hell out of you, I’ll let you go!

  18. I had hoped to find an article about the possibility of growing a testicle with your own adult stem cells. I lost my left testicle as a child through an injury I guess. The testicle twisted in half and then died. The article was correct as it does not stop you from being manly or having a deep voice. Don’t think I could go for having another mans testicle implanted into me though. Have children with someone and of course they would not have your DNA.

  19. Well this is all very interesting.
    You may enjoy reading more about Serge Voronoff and the
    infamous ‘monkey gland affair’ that took the world by storm in the 20s. Please visit http://www.voronoff.wordpress.com
    to learn more about my famous great-grandfather.

  20. Horribly cruel stuff and downright sick hobby. This disturbed man (Dr. Berthold) is a flag-waver for the abortion rights activists!
    But I suppose you would have to crush a few “eggs” to understand how an omelette is made……….

  21. Just to make my statement clear- I meant that, many chickens would have found it a much better world, if *he* had been aborted!

  22. Anyone want to continue the experiment in the pursuit of science?
    What if you implant an imitation testicle in the rooster? If you take a testicle made out of plastic or some material that mimiced the texture and weight of a rooster testicle, then implanted it in the rooster, would the rooster behave like a rooster or a capon?

  23. Hi my name is Samuel i was born with my testacles in the stormac i have already two surgerys docters trying to pull them down but now they are gone up again and i am 45 years old what i am gona do.

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