Science of Desire: The Gay Gene and the Biology of Behavior Paperback – Dec 14 1995
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From Publishers Weekly
A chronicle of the scientific investigation through which Hamer, a researcher at the National Cancer Institute, came to the controversial conclusion that he had discovered the "gay gene."
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
After reading books by Charles Darwin and Richard Lewontin, Hamer (a yeast geneticist at the National Cancer Institute) discovered that little is known about behavioral genetics in humans. He was intrigued enough to change his research direction. This book is a personalized account of the luck, pleasures, and pitfalls involved in scientific investigation-from the germ of an idea about genetic markers for homosexuality to results suggesting that the X-chromosome carries a marker for male homosexuality and speculation on the evolutionary and physiological mechanisms involved. Hamer's research included an intimate exploration of the development of homosexual behavior, family histories, and, finally, careful statistical and molecular analysis. Fortunately for Hamer, he already occupied a prestigious position that covered his day-to-day laboratory needs since the path he chose had many barriers, including hostility from celebrated scientists and intense public attention. While the topic may be offensive to some, this is an engaging odyssey through the mind of a scientist on a controversial path, with much musing, justification, and reassessment along the way. Recommended for both lay readers and specialists.
Constance Rinaldo, Dartmouth Coll., Hanover, N.H.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Hamer is the Chief of the Section on Gene Structure and Regulation in the Department of Biochemistry at the National Cancer Institute. This book describes in lay terms the work that led to the publication of the scientific paper entitled "A Linkage Between DNA Markers on the X Chromosome and Male Sexual Orientation". The goal of the study was to determine whether male sexual orientation was "genetically influenced" and what they found was "a statistically significant correlation between the inheritance of genetic markers on chromosomal region Xq28 and sexual orientation in a selected group of homosexual males." The statistical significance was strong: the odds of the correlation happening by chance was only 1 out of 100,000.
Before they started looking at genes, Hamer and his group considered the family histories of the pairs of gay brothers who he used in his study. The researchers found more gay men on the maternal side and eventually realized that this was due to recessive X-linked inheritance. "X-linked traits always are passed to men through the mother's side of the family, which is the pattern we were seeing for homosexuality."
The book carefully explains how the research was done and what conclusions could and could not be drawn from it. They did not find a gay gene; they only showed that one exists. It does not "determine" homosexuality; it is only one factor in the makeup of those gay men who inherited it. There may be other genes that play a role and there are surely many environmental factors that influence the expression of homosexuality. Some of the evidence from Hamer's study "suggests that Xq28 plays some role in about 5 to 30 percent of gay men."
The book closes with a chapter on the social implications of this research. There is also an interesting chapter addressing the question "How could a gay gene survive consistent with the facts of evolution?"
He states, "With the science approved and the funding assured, the only remaining hurdle was political... I knew the right wing would question our work because they think being gay is a `lifestyle' that people choose, not something genetic. The left wouldn't be happy, either, because they would worry about homosexuality being classified as a genetic defect that could be `cured,' instead of as a normal human variation." (Pg. 43)
He notes that "After only a few weeks of interviewing gay men, it was clear that few families were going to show any of the simple patterns of Mendelian inheritance... This was not all that surprising. If sexual orientation were strictly determined by a single gene, it probably would have been discovered already. Besides, it is well established that most behavioral characteristics do not follow Mendel's rules... [and] they involve both genetic and nongenetic components such as the environment---nature AND nurture." (Pg. 81)
He describes his research: "I tried the experiment again, this time using the DNA from the gay brothers in the four other families I'd collected by this time. Once again, all four pairs seemed to be concordant for the marker. Fearing that the marker was too common to tell me anything, I decided to try one more test, using the marker on the DNA from the four mothers from whom I'd been able to collect blood. Somewhat to my surprise, I found that three of them had different forms of the marker on their two X chromosomes, which indicated the marker was indeed working. The very next pair of gay brothers I tested came up discordant. They clearly had inherited different versions of the marker from their mother and therefore couldn't share the same `gay gene.'" (Pg. 121)
He states, "We had DNA available from only 15 of the mothers (and from one sister) of our gay brother pairs. How could we know whether the `motherless' matching brothers really had inherited the same Wq28 region[?]... In principle, it would have been better to have obtained DNA from every mother, but this was not possible because often the mother had died or did not know her sons were gay." (Pg. 140-141)
He more controversially says, "Most sissies will grow up to be homosexuals, and most gay men were sissies as children. Despite the provocative and politically incorrect nature of that statement, it fits the evidence. In fact, it may be the most consistent, well-documented and significant finding in the entire field of sexual-orientation research and perhaps in all of human psychology." (Pg. 166)
He wonders, "The gene has only one mission---to endure---and the only way it can continue to exist is if its host multiplies and passes on the genetic information to the next generation... That's why it would seem almost impossible for there to be a `gay gene.' After all, how could a gene that discourages reproduction survive more than a few generations? ... Even if half the male population had the gay version to start out with, the gene soon would die out because the men would have no offspring... the frequency of the gene would decline with every generation... It would appear something must be wrong with this simplistic theory of evolution or with our finding of a genetic link to homosexuality. But, in fact, there are several ways a `gay gene' could survive, even flourish in the population. What if, for example, a `gay gene' actually increased rather than decreased the number of offspring in some of the people who carried it? Or what if the gene existed in an unusually unstable part of the genome and was continually changing during the rough-and-tumble passage of generations? At this point, the only explanations of the evolution of `gay genes' are purely theoretical, but the various theories might help to explain how a gene for sexual orientation works in the real world." (Pg. 180-182)
This book will be of great interest to anyone researching homosexuality, and related issues.
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