Prometheus Rising: The Barbed Penis

ow my liverEvery major scientific discovery has the potential to benefit mankind, but more often than not fate punishes us for our discovery. Like Prometheus who stole fire from the gods, society ends up bound to a metaphorical rock where a giant metaphorical eagle pecks at our collective liver for all eternity.

We have yet to see if the discovery of DNA and the science of genetic modification will play out as another Promethean tragedy, but this year a team of researchers at Stanford have made at least one breakthrough that is sure to only benefit mankind: they have discovered how to give us our barbed penises back.

Slow down, Richard, you might say. Barbed penises? Give them back? That’s right reader, our smooth-headed penises are somewhat of an anomaly. Most other primates, and many other mammals, have many small spines made of keratin on the glans of their penis, much like a cat’s tongue (incidentally, cats have barbed penises, too; see below).

penis barbs

Penis barbs displayed in (left) a magnified image of a marmoset penis, (right) a cat penis

As reported in a paper by McLean et al. (2011) published in Nature, the researchers were able to identify precisely the sequence of DNA which is responsible for the barbs by looking for genetic codes present in chimps and macaques but absent in humans.

So why did we lose our barbs? McLean et al. explain:

“Simplified penile morphology tends to be associated with monogamous reproductive strategies in primates. Ablation of spines decreases tactile sensitivity and increases the duration of intromission, indicating their loss in the human lineage may be associated with the longer duration of copulation in our species relative to chimpanzees”

To put it crudely, our lack of barbs allows us to increase the amount of “pumps” at the expense of what must be an exquisite sensitivity coupled with an intense sensory pleasure. Likely the most intense pleasure imaginable.

The most exciting part of this research, which I alluded to earlier, is that they implanted the missing DNA into transgenic human foreskin cells and found that it was able to drive gene expression in the cells, indicating the genetic system that produces the barbs lies dormant in our genomes.

Though it doesn’t indicate so in the paper, presumably the researchers are working on a way to reactivate this genetic system in human beings with some kind of gene serum or topical gene cream. Or maybe a psychoactive drug that can regress our mental state and externalize the experience, altering our penises back to a more ancient, perfect form; wait, no I’m thinking of Altered States.  A cream would probably do.

But barbs are just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. Just imagine what else is lying dormant in our genetic code, waiting to be awakened, as least as regards our penises. It seems like through genetic engineering, we may someday be able to craft the penis of our dreams. Of course we must proceed with caution, and like Icarus, not fly too close to the sun…and like Prometheus, remember to be mindful of eagles.


Dixson, A.F. 1991. Penile spines affect copulatory behaviour in a primate (Callithrix jacchus). Physiol. Behav., 49(3): 557-562.

Hawks, J. 2011. The “real” junk DNA [online].

McLean, C. Y. et al. 2011. Human-specific loss of regulatory DNA and the evolution of human-specific traits. Nature 471, 216-219 (2011).


3 Comments on “Prometheus Rising: The Barbed Penis”

  1. […] already touched on this idea a little in my post on the barbed penis, where I examined a study claiming proto-humans used to have magnificent barbed penises like many […]

  2. […] the first aim, such as in the echidna penis article, and we’ve touched on the third aim in the barbed penis article. But today I would like to explore second aim, by way of the African elephant and the strange […]

  3. […] with various spines, barbs, knobs, ridges, grooves, and other ornaments (yes, ducks belong the barbed penis club along with cats, most primates, and many other mammals and reptiles, […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s