A Gene For Everything

On a recent episode of the SGU, the Dr. Novella was expressing the opinion that technological advances often experience a lag of about a decade between the “hype” and the actual results. That is to say, we only make breakthroughs once we have already given up. As someone coming of age in the the Human Genome project, I can distinctly remember the excitement about finding “genes for everything,” single specific genes we could put into a 1-to-1 correspondence with human traits. And not just physical traits either, like hair color (boring!)… no, all traits, even behaviors like having a clean desk at work or voting Republican. We would then be able to modify these genes at will, curing all sorts of inherited diseases. Then the disappointment  as we found out that not only was the human genome more like a recipe than a blueprint, which many genes interacting in complicated ways with the environment to create variations, but also ran into some major obstacles when testing gene therapy. However, there have been some amazing benefits to gene manipulation, like insulin from bacteria with recombinant DNA . That is, we can make E Coli bacteria into drug factories, just by slipping in the right genes. [It’s not just biomimetic, it’s biokleptic!] But now, after having despaired of finding the “gene for” a behavior, scientists have been able to trace the genetic origin of tunnel-building traits in a certain kind of mouse. Even so, heredity explained only 30 or 40% of the behavior. Still, this is an exciting piece of evidence to throw on the gigantic pile that is the nature-nurture debate. (I always thought the answer to that particular argument was short:  “it’s both, interacting in complicated, non-linear ways,” but that still leaves a lot of space for filling in the details)


Author: lnemzer

Assistant Professor Nova Southeastern University

One thought on “A Gene For Everything”

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