June 05, 2014

It's Raining Male-Loving Genes:
New research supports, expounds on "Gay Gene" idea

Dear Moms,
You may be making your son more likely to be gay.
The internet
We’ve seen this idea a million and one times—the idea that somehow, parents are responsible for homosexuality. And now, we’ve got some research that suggests that not only are parents responsible, but women are in particular.

In our quest to understand human sexuality, we’ve run across a selection of genes that may, in fact, influence male (and female sexuality). Although there’s no precise information on what the genes do, it appears that they encourage the individual to be attracted to males…and that’s regardless of the individual’s gender.

The idea that genetics affect sexuality is nothing new. In 1993, the American Association for the Advancement of Science published the paper "A Linkage Between DNA Markers on the X Chromosome and Male Sexual Orientation”. While there’s no consensus on the “born this way” debate, it’s certainly one of the major theories in the area.

This new research suggests that homosexuality is actually a consequence of evolutionary prowess:
But rather than thinking of them as “gay genes”, perhaps we should consider them “male-loving genes”. They may be common because these variant genes, in a female, predispose her to mate earlier and more often, and to have more children.
So across the history of humanity, these genes potentially bolstered a female’s ability to mate. Obviously, loving the opposite sex is a bonus in that department.

We know that genetics play a role in many different aspects of our personality and appearance. Applying these techniques to sexuality is sometimes hard though, as Jenny graves explains:
It’s hard to use these techniques to detect genetic variants associated with male homosexuality, because many gay men prefer not to be open about their sexuality. It is even harder because twin studies show that shared genes are only part of the story; hormones, birth order and environment play roles too.
So genetics isn’t the end all, be all. In the 1993 study, the conclusions showed that the X chromosome seemed to be an epicenter for homosexuality in males:
In 1993, American geneticist Dean Hamer found families with several gay males on the mother’s side, suggesting a gene on the X chromosome. He showed that pairs of brothers who were openly gay shared a small region at the tip of the X, and proposed that it contained a gene that predisposes a male to homosexuality.
I find genetics absolutely fascinating. The entire idea that these tiny chromosomes influence so much of who we are is absolutely mind-blowing.

The most fascinating part about this set of explanations is that it explains a fundamental question about homosexuality: Why is it so prevalent among humans when homosexuals produce at a lower rate?

So much has been made possible through the Human Genome Project. I’m truly intrigued to see what else we will discover about ourselves and our genetic makeup in the future.

As per all studies of this sort, there are many questions raised by the findings--perhaps more than were answered. It will need to be fully explored before it can be meaningfully integrated into our broader understanding of genetics and how it affects life in general. But it certainly appears to be a hint at the puzzle of human sexuality.

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