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.)
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:
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:
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
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