The discovery of a gay gene or number of gay genes is giving more weight to the idea that people are born gay, rather than it being a lifestyle choice.
The New Scientist reports that researchers have recently discovered concrete evidence of a gay gene. The study was based on an analysis of 409 pairs of gay brothers, including twins. The results give further support to the notion that homosexuals are born gay.
The study leader, Alan Sanders of the NorthShore Research Institute in Evanston, Illinois, said that “It erodes the notion that sexual orientation is a choice.”
The work is seen to be a confirmation of Dean Hamer’s study some 20 years ago. Hamer, of the US National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, discovered evidence of a gay gene back in 1993, but his studies and those carried out since then were inconclusive.
However, Sander’s research covered more than 10 times as many people as did Hamer and three times more than all other similar research. In doing so, his team has confirmed that the suspected region on the X chromosome, called Xq28, is indicative of male homosexuality.
Sanders analysed blood and saliva samples from 409 pairs of gay brothers from 384 families over a period of five years. Honing in on genetic markers called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) his team established that the subjects shared the same group of genes in the same location.
They charted the degree to which the 818 participants differed in such things as height, intelligence and hair colour and discovered that the genetic location was the only thing shared by all the gay men. The researchers still have to clarify which of a few specific genes are responsible, but the shared grouping and location is relatively conclusive evidence of its existence.
Sanders compares the results to those on research into intelligence, which suggests that levels of intelligence depend on more than one gene and other factors. With regard to homosexuality, he says that it may not be one gene, but a number of them which are responsible and that there are also other factors involved such as environment.
The New Scientist notes that many in the scientific community have welcomed the results. It quotes Andrea Camperio Ciani of the University of Padua in Italy, who remarked that “The most pleasing aspect is that the confirmation comes from a team that was in the past somewhat sceptical and critical of the earlier findings.” The results of the study were published in Psychological Medicine last Monday.
It also quotes another neuroscientist, Simon LeVay, who previously claimed to have found a region in the brain to be smaller in gay men. He said that “This study knocks another nail into the coffin of the ‘chosen lifestyle’ theory of homosexuality,” adding “Yes, we have a choice in life, to be ourselves or to conform to someone else’s idea of normality, but being straight, bisexual or gay, or none of these, is a central part of who we are, thanks in part to the DNA we were born with.”
Even so, some gay activists fear that the discoveries could be a double-edged sword.Some worry that it might lead to homosexuality being redefined as a biological abnormality and lead to medical procedures to genetically alter gays.
They warn that it could also lead to prenatal tests, by which parents could decide to abort their pregnancies, if they find out their child is gay. Therefore, some gay activists are even talking of “homosexual genocide.”
However, Queerty quotes a Daily Mail article in which Qazi Rhaman, a psychologist at King’s College London, who believed that genes probably account for only 40 per cent of a person’s sexual orientation and that, given the likelihood that many genes are involved, the development of an accurate genetic test would be extremely difficult.
Discover magazine says that some in the scientific community are still sceptical of Sander’s findings. It points to an article written by Kelly Servick in Science which says there are criticisms of the techniques used and some of the the conclusions drawn.
However, Sanders is already involved in an even wider study of another 1,000 gay men and a comparative analysis of genetic markers in both homosexual and straight males.
The Huffington Post interviewed one of the participants in the study, Dr. Chad Zawitz from Chicago, who said the results were “a giant step forward toward answering scientific questions about homosexuality and helping reduce the stigma gays often face.”
He added that being gay “is sort of like having certain eye color or skin color — it’s just who you are. Most heterosexuals I know didn’t choose to be heterosexual. It’s puzzling to me why people don’t understand.”