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Random Noun Rabbit Hole

Updated: Jun 16, 2021

This is an experiment in the "anything is interesting if you dig deep enough" arena. Use a random noun generator like this one to produce two nonsensical, random words, then find an interesting story that links them together. Today's mission: Panthers + Simvastatin

So how are panthers (the big cat, not the Carolina football team -- that would have been an easier assignment) related to the cholesterol-lowering statins? Here are a few fun facts that this rabbit hole revealed:

  1. Did you know the Ligers are REAL? Are they anyone else's favorite animal?

  2. Birth control pills are toxic to dogs. Good to know.

  3. Female cheetahs are quite promiscuous and often birth a litter of cubs that all have different fathers (this seems judgmental, but its the language used by the scientists).

I guess it never occurred to me that animals might suffer from some of the same health issues as humans. After all, they seem to have much healthier diets and lower levels of self-induced stress. But this rabbit hole research revealed that large cats like panthers actually suffer from the same heart ailments as humans, such as cardiomyopathy and even hyper/hypothyroidism (perhaps you've seen these thyroid conditions referenced on the cover of women's magazines in the grocery-store checkout line with headlines like "MYSTERY WEIGHT LOSS SECRET REVEALED!"). In fact, heart disease is a common cause of death for large cats (along with vehicle collisions and territorial fights).

Researchers have discovered that a large number of Florida panthers also suffer from undescended testicles. This can happen to humans too (it occurs in 3% of full-term and 30% of premature infants!), and is one of the sources of male-factor infertility. We had close neighbors in North Carolina with this issue who now have two beautiful children via IVF. Here's what I should have said in our conversations about it (I unfortunately said some of the well-meaning but clueless things on the "not to say" list.

But back to panthers -- here's the interesting thing: the undescended testicle are often a side effect of inbreeding, which is also a common situation for these cat populations. The inbreeding can be a huge contributing factor leading to species extinction. According to evolutionary theory, very small populations face two dangers — inbreeding depression and low genetic variation — that might keep them from recovering, despite our best efforts to preserve them. A bold experiment to alter their gene variations have given the Florida panther (once slated for extinction) a new lease on life.

The topic of inbreeding naturally led me to thinking about Charles II of Spain. Have you read about him lately? The Economist published an article on the leader-driven theory of history arguing that extensive inbreeding among the nobility in Europe's early days produced mentally incompetent rulers who contributed to the miserable condition of the population. Charles II of Spain won the prize for "most inbred" monarch (his parents were uncle and niece, who were also born to first cousins) resulting in Charles being more inbred than than the offspring of siblings would be. Charles suffered from a tongue so swollen he couldn't speak, and died at age 38 with corroded lungs and "rotten" intestines.

Lovely. So we come to the conclusion that heart disease and inbreeding are toxic to both large cats and humans, and Simvastatin can at least help cure of us of one of these afflictions.

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