Rodent revelations

Rat testicles contain a substance that could lead to a better spermicide.

Published March 8, 2001 8:27PM (EST)

Last year health researchers discovered something unsettling about the popular spermicide nonoxynol-9. A study with prostitutes concluded that the birth-control goop can increase a woman's chances of getting infected with HIV. The international medical community continues to search for a sexually friendly material that will kill germs without damaging genitals. A recent report by Chinese researchers claims they now may have found a key to this miracle potion -- inside the testicle of a rat.

According to a report in the journal Science, the team from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai and the Chinese University of Hong Kong examined the sex organs of rats in great detail. A filthy, greasy rodent will reproduce at the drop of a crumb, and amid this wanton and careless fornication, the rat has somehow evolved into a disease-free sex machine. So the scientists probed further, digging into the epididymis, an organ in the rat's testicles involved in sperm production. The genetic code of the epididymis contains a gene that controls a protein particle called Bin1b. Although humans and chimps have Bin1b peptide in their saliva, lungs, and urogenital tracts, which helps to fight microbes, we don't have it in our testicles.

Rats, on the other hand, appear to have iron balls. In tests conducted by the research teams, the rat's Bin1b was successful in suppressing growth of E. coli bacteria. And scientists believe this peptide may also be involved in nurturing sperm. If this Bin1b can be isolated and used as a basis for a drug for humans, it could work as a "chemical condom," acting as both contraceptive and microbicide.

Any future marketers of such a product would do well to hide the source of the new goo.

By Jack Boulware

Jack Boulware is a writer in San Francisco and author of "San Francisco Bizarro" and "Sex American Style."

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