November 6th, 2005


Science Notes: Anonymous Sperm Donor Traced on Internet

Last week, New Scientist magazine published a fascinating article: Anonymous Sperm Donor Traced on Internet.

The upshot of the article is that a 15-year-old boy whose mother had conceived using donor sperm was curious to know who his father was. He sent some cheek cells to an online genealogy DNA-testing service, which gave him information on his Y-chromosome. The Y is passed along from father to son without much change, if any, and so the boy was able to find other users of the service who had the same Y-chromosome. Now, neither one was his father, but they had the same surname. Since his mother had been given the anonymous donor's date of birth, place of birth, and college degree, another online search allowed him to find lists of names who fit those criteria. And only one name shared the surname he had found.

This story has major implications for people in the United States, as the article points out. In the US, most sperm donors are anonymous, and some request to remain so throughout their entire lives. There is a population of men out there who donated sperm as college students, twenty to thirty years ago, and who might suddenly find that the promise of anonymity has been shattered. Quoting from the article, "Many have not told their wives or children and have never considered the implications of having a dozen offspring suddenly wanting to meet them." There is also the distinct possibility that this news might lead to a drop in the number of men willing to donate their sperm.

What fascinates me about this story is that it's another case of different technologies developing at the same time, leading to implications that no one (as far as I know) predicted. It's one thing to predict the Internet. It's another thing to predict DNA testing. But I don't think anyone put them together in science fiction the way this boy did in real life.

NaNo Support for Troy

Although I myself am not doing NaNoWriMo, I do have a few friends out there who are attempting the massive undertaking.

One of those who is not on LiveJournal is Troy Rutter, although you can find his blog syndicated at troy_rutter

Troy's a fascinating person. He grew up in Iowa, and worked for a few years as one of the staffers for the television show Babylon 5, as an official liaison to the fan community. He's written what is arguably the most useful book for parents of children in Hollywood: Kids in the Biz: A Hollywood Handbook for Parents.

And now he's trying to write a 50,000-word science fiction novel in a month, to which I must say: Go, Troy!

You can see how he's doing at Troy's Author Page.

Science Notes: Robot Space Penguins

I'm surprised that I missed this article from New Scientist on 31 August 2005, but thanks to netmouse's post, I found it:

Robotic space penguin to hop across the Moon:

Engineers at US defence contractor Raytheon, in Massachusetts, have developed a robot, dubbed the Lunar Penguin, that could one day bounce across perilous craters and imposing mountains on the Moon's craggy surface using a set of compact rocket boosters.

All I can envision is an update to the documentary March of the Penguins:

"The Moon is a harsh enviroment, but these robot penguins have been intelligently designed to survive under such difficult conditions..."

On second thought, maybe not.