Saturday, February 14, 2009

Science, Marco Polo and Kissing

Given that today is Saint Valentine's Day, we are indulging in an aspect of science that may not have much to do with stem cells – kissing.

Sheril Kirshenbaum of NewScientist magazine has graced the online world with a look at one of the latest theories about the origins of kissing. It comes from neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran of UC San Diego and the Salk Institute, who has been labeled the "Marco Polo of Neuroscience."

Kirshenbaum writes that Ramachandran "points out that since our ancestors needed to find ripe fruit, they would have been attracted to the color red."

She quotes the scientist as saying,
"Red thus became an indicator of food reward. Then something called 'evolutionary co-option' happened, turning red into a general signal for attraction."
Ramachandran says that despite changes that have resulted in an upright posture for human beings, swollen lips remain attractive to males "because of an atavistic persistence of evolutionary memory for attraction to red."

Kirshenbaum notes,
"This hypothesis is supported by the fact that bonobos ( a type of great ape) share our pink lips, as well as our inclination toward kissing, face-to-face mating and oral sex - much more so than pale-lipped chimpanzees."
In a separate piece, NewScientist editorialized,
"...(T)he role of kissing remains mysterious. Perhaps it is one of those facets of human behavior that will remain forever beyond our ken - but no less delicious for that."
As far as we can determine, Ramachandran is not a recipient of a grant from the California stem cell agency. But some clever folks at CIRM might be able to conjure up a concept for an RFA that could attract his attention and advance science in this important area. Color the application red.

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