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  • The phenomenon of hermaphrodites

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    The percentage of sex pathology is, fortunately, a rare phenomenon in nature. Instead of the term hermaphroditism, there was a new one introduced — disorder of sexual differentiation. What may life have in store for a child, whose medical history contains such terms? We asked this question to Doctor of Medical Sciences, surgeon, Andrei Pisklakov.

    In biology, a hermaphrodite from Greek (ερμαφρόδιταis) is an organism that has reproductive organs normally associated with both male and female sexes.

    Many taxonomic groups of animals (mostly invertebrates) do not have separate sexes. In these groups, hermaphroditism is a normal condition, enabling a form of sexual reproduction in which both partners can act as the “female” or “male”. For example, the great majority of pulmonate snails, opisthobranch snails and slugs are hermaphrodites. Hermaphroditism is also found in some fish species and to a lesser degree in other vertebrates. Most plants are also hermaphrodites.

    Historically, the term hermaphrodite has also been used to describe ambiguous genitalia and gonadal mosaicism in individuals of gonochoristic species, especially human beings. The word hermaphrodite entered the English lexicon in the late 14th century, derived from Greek Ερμαφρόδιτος Hermaphroditos, the son of the Greek god Hermes and the goddess Aphrodite. The word intersex has come into preferred usage for humans, since the word hermaphrodite is considered to be misleading and stigmatizing, as well as “scientifically specious and clinically problematic”

    Aside from having an ambiguous-looking external genitalia, true hermaphroditism in humans differs from pseudohermaphroditism in which the person’s karyotype has both XX and XY chromosome pairs (47XXY, 46XX/46XY, 46XX/47XXY or 45X/XY mosaic) and having both testicular and ovarian tissue. One possible pathophysiologic explanation of this rare phenomenon is a parthenogenetic division of a haploid ovum into two haploid ova. Upon fertilization of the two ova by two sperm cells (one carrying an X and the other carrying a Y chromosome), the two fertilized ova are then fused together resulting in a person having dual genitalial, gonadal (ovotestes) and genetic sex.

    Another common cause of hermaphroditism is the crossing over of the SRY from the Y chromosome to the X chromosome during meiosis. The SRY is then activated in only certain areas, causing development of testes in some areas by beginning a series of events starting with the upregulation of SOX9, and in other areas not being active (causing the growth of ovarian tissues). Thus, testicular and ovarian tissues will both be present in the same individual.

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