Sunday, May 21, 2006

Genetics and Sexuality: The Gay Gene

In a new study, researchers looked at 97 mothers of gay sons and 103 mothers without gay sons to see if there was any difference in how they handled their X chromosomes. The findings appear in the February 2006 issue of the journal Human Genetics. The research "confirms that there is a strong genetic basis for sexual orientation, and that for some gay men, genes on the X chromosome are involved," said study co-author Sven Bocklandt, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California at Los Angeles.

"When we looked at women who have gay kids, in those with more than one gay son, we saw a quarter of them inactivate the same X in virtually every cell we checked," Bocklandt said. "That's extremely unusual." Forty-four of the women had more than one gay son. In contrast, 4 percent of mothers with no gay sons activated the chromosome and 13 percent of those with just one gay son did. The phenomenon of being more likely to inactivate one X chromosome -- known as "extreme skewing" -- is typically seen only in families that have major genetic irregularities, Bocklandt said.

What does this all mean? The researchers aren't sure, but Bocklandt thinks he and his colleagues are moving closer to understanding the origins of sexual orientation.

Dr. Ionel Sandovici, a genetics researcher at The Babraham Institute in Cambridge, England said, "We're trying to understand one of the most critical human traits: the ability to love and be attracted to others. Without sexual reproduction we would not exist, and sexual selection played an essential role in evolution," he said. "Yet, we have no idea how it works, and that's what we're trying to find out. "

This research suggests that genetics may play a part in sexual orientation. This is a vast difference than decades ago, where earlier versions of the DSM regarded homosexuality as a mental disorder. Genetic research rocks.


Bocklandt, S. ; Horvath, S.; Vilain, E.; Hamer. D.H. ; Sandovici, I. (2006) Extreme skewing of X chromosome inactivation in mothers of homosexual men. Human Genetics, 118(6): 691-694.

The Gay Gene @ Frontline.


Anonymous said...

I think this is cool too. This is really interesting! I wonder if this kind of research will cause some sort of parental frenzy of parents wanting their kids genetically tested.

Medicoglia, RN said...

Ohhh...hadn't thought about the genetic testing aspect!!

My partner comes from a large family...7 kids. 3 boys, 4 girls. Two of the guys are gay, my partner is gay (obviously) and one sister is bi-sexual. She has a gay nephew, a gay cousin and a gay aunt and uncle...cousin, aunt and uncle all on the maternal side of the family. In my family it is just me and one far. I have a cousin that is 18 and she has asked questions (starting at 14)...but so far has not indicated she may be gay also.

I have always thought it was genetic...I wavered in that thought for a little while when my abuse history started coming back to me...but looking at my partner's family, I'm back to it being genetic.


Grumpy Old Man said...

A purely genetic explanation for homosexual orientation is not consistent with natural selection. Homosexuals are significantly less likely to reproduce than people with a heterosexual orientation.

Ergo, either there's an adaptive polymorphism (an advantage to people with an unexpressed gene that counteracts the disadvantage imposed by the fully expressed one), or, the hypothesis I think more plausible, there's an infectious agent involved, probably in utero or in early childhood.

The militant gay movement might not like it if someone found a "gay virus," but the infectious agent hypothesis seems to me more plausible than a purely genetic one.

Anonymous said...

And of course the militant christian right could still continue their persecution of gay people because it is a virus after all, and those with the gay virus should not have any rights based on the fact they were infected with the gay virus. So, I guess it begs the question then if it is true that gay people have been infected with a virus, would this be covered under ADA??

Medicoglia, RN said...

Oh I thought EVERYONE knew we were infected...and contagious. We recruit too...don't forget that!! Geez!!! :P

The Miner said...

I totally agree with Tiesha!
keep posting...

CrackerLilo said...

I think it's cool, but at the same time, I have some basic problems with these studies.

1. Bisexuals and bisexuality are buried--we are described as gay or straight depending on who we're with at time of survey.

2. Why can't we look at effects on a life, not causes? Why can't we merely respect others' right to make romantic/sexual choices for themselves, even if they would not be our choices for them?

3. Everyone knows race is genetic. Racism has so far failed to be eradicated because of this knowledge.

4. Nobody's checking into the origins of *heterosexuality*. Which just demonstrates that...

5. In many ways, our society considers same-sex attractions a problem that must be explained away somehow. Because of this...

6. Should a gene be found, future LGBT people just might be aborted before they even get to breathe.

But apart from that... ;-)

I love you; this subject just always makes me a bit irritable.

CrackerLilo said...

Fallen Angels, once a co-worker was being really snide about asking me how I came to be bi, and I put an arm around her and whispered in her ear, "It's con-taaaaaa-geous!" :-)

Grumpy Old Man, to paraphrase Rebecca West, "I myself have never been able to find out precisely what the militant gay movement is: I only know that people call me militant whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat." I said it on your blog, but I will say it here--if it's a sickness, may the cure never be found, 'cause this has been the best sickness of my entire life.

puhpaul said...

I am constantly impressed by the genetic research that has been done in so many ways, but, like Crackerlilo, I have a few problems with it. For example, the Kinsey report states that sexuality is on a continuum. In my family there is a history of homosexuality on my father's side of the family, but not on my mom's. So, while I agree that there may be some genetic link, I also believe there has to be more to it than that.

BTW, one of my students was telling me that a couple of girls were convinced that she could be cured of her homosexuality by kissing the right boy. I'm pretty sure that theory holds as much credibility as your viral infection theory.


Sonnie-Dee said...

Its very interesting to put something like sexuality under the genetic spotlight, for some it may provide answers for their inner turmoil, particularly those who struggle with their sexuality. On the other hand, I am not sure it is purely genetics. Of course this brings up the whole nature vs nurture debate but sometimes I think the things that have happened in your life do impact your choices.

Playground In My Mind said...

Fascinating. I agree that genetic research is wonderful-it is unlocking a lot of doors that help us understand things. I do not like genetic engineering, though. I do not like cloning and such. That is so "Playing God." I wish that we wouldn't go down that road.
Maybe this new research will help others understand that gays do not "recruit" people. I do not understand all of the issues with gays. There are so many TRUE horrors to deal with. Why do people think that they need to invent "the horror of homosexuality". My uncle was gay. I adored him and he was ostracized by even my father-my heart still breaks that I was in my teens and not yet able to challenge my father's thinking. TOTALLY different now. G and I have known many gays, but they are NOT DEFINED by their so called sexual orientation. Good people are good people no matter the color of their skin or who they lie down next to. Whew! Sorry!!! Didn't mean to launch into a rant on YOUR blog. ahhahahahaha Renee

nRT said...

Why can't we spend the research money on curing "Cancer, HIV, AIDS and other life threatening diseases.
Why should $$ be spent on peoples private lives.
I wonder how much $ was dedicate to the Genetic Gay Gene Project and who sponcered it?

Dr. Deb said...

Dear Tiesha,
The genetic piece is very important to highlight, though it does not explain everything. With any genetic advances, I think we do run the risk of over-testing for things. You make a good point.

Dear Fallen,
Sexuality is a contraversial topic. The issue in this SMALL study is that there were genetic links. Genetics does not explain everything here, but it may help us understand more about human sexuality.

Dear GOM,
I don't think *anything* exists in pure form, so genetics doesn't explain sexuality in total. I do think it is important to note that not too many years ago, homosexuality was considered a mental disorder. Research is helping make clearer a variety of human experiences. The genetic piece IS there, but so are social, behavioral, interpersonal, cultural and environmental layers too.

Dear Richard,
I wanted to highlight this study because I think so many individuals feel that certain aspects of sexuality are "choices". This research suggests that homosexuality (and heterosexuality) have certain genetic pieces. If someone is a narrow-thinker, this research as well as future studies will do nothing to broaden their ignorance.

Dear Fallen,
Oh no, I've got a debate percolating here. I hope we can all get along.

Dear Miner,
So glad you visited. I will be taking a surf over to you soon.

Dear Crackerlilo,
I think this study helps to explore sexuality be it homosexuality or heterosexuality. It opens the doors for legitimate discussions for all kinds of sexuality. Though, you are right, a study like this could stem from the thought that LGBT is something wrong, that needs to be explained. I'd like to think that the researchers are trying to illustrate that sexuality is partially genetically determined - not an illness as homosexuality and bisexuality were considered not too many years ago. I also agree that bisexuality is sometimes given the short shrift in research. I certainly hope that such discoveries like this small study would not heighten the ignorance that is already out there. I would hope that legit studies can close the gap of hate and intolerance. And I ADORE you too :)

Dear Puhpaul,
I totally agree. Genetics is a only a part of this. But it is a part. Genetics has never been identified before in this realm. In the past, certain aspects of sexuality were deemed an illness or a disorder. Now that we can see the genetic piece, I hope that it can take away the ignorance that many people hold. That was my hope when I put together this post.

Dear Sonnie,
I hope that it can help too. As I've said before, genetics seems to have a piece in sexuality. However, I agree, it is not the total explanantion.


Ian Lidster said...

Nature versus nurture, and the debate goes on, and probably always will. So here is one to ponder, Deb. A gay friend comes from a family of 3 sons, two of whom are gay. The question that becomes intriguing in terms of genetics, however, is that while my friend is gay, his identical twin is not, yet they share the same DNA, hence genetic makeup. Thought you might find that interesting.

Dr. Deb said...

Dear Renee,
You must have posted as I published my comments. Don't think I left you out on purpose. I DO agree with you that this kind of research can do good. To me, love is love and I don't have any issue with whom a person chooses to love. I have seen the heartache too, and if tolerance can be gained from such studies, than I am all for it. You can rant whenever you like, dahling :)

Dear Nancy,
I think that a lot can be gained from studies like this. Reducing stigma around sexuality can lead to greater openness. And from greater openness would come a reduction in HIV, AIDS and Cancer as well as other life threatening issues. A decrease in addiction, alcoholism, etc would result from this. Anyone who feels stigma is less likely to get medical attention. But we are all entitled to our own opinions. And I can accept and understand your point of view.


Dr. Deb said...

Dear Ian,
Twin studies are totally fascinating to me. They can explain so much and then they can explain the opposite! I have met many twins, idential twins: one who has schizophrenia and the other doesn't; one who has learning disabilities, and the other doesn't; one who has clinical depression, and the other doesn't...and one who is heterosexual, and the other is homosexual. Science can aid in the explanation. "Aid" being the operative word.


jumpinginpuddles said...

ok i like the genetics stuff and ive long had a thought that sexuality can be somewhat based on genetics. Just wishing that someone could find genetics to find the homophobic gene in people that hurt gay people in an effort of heterosexual supremecy.
And no that isnt to start a debate. Thanks for such a bold blog.

Dr. Deb said...

Dear JIP,
Finding *that* gene would be so helpful.


Medicoglia, RN said...

No worries Deb...I had my say already, so no debate from this corner. My "militant" days are long over. ;)

Wanda's Wings said...

I think this is very interesting, the gentic thing. Genetic has so much to do with so many things why not this.
I was just wondering if Mothers of gay Sons would be different from Mothers of transgender Sons. Maybe there is no conection at all. Is there any genetic studies on trangender at all?

HP said...

A very thought-provoking post and a interesting study.

Anything that puts even greater distance between the days of homosexuality being considered a mental disorder is good.

As with all new advances, it's a double-edged sword though. As the research advances, will it get to the point where people test for this in utero? Will people start to look at homosexuality as an individual being damaged in some way?

I can understand the desire to explore these issues scientifically. On a more human basis, it would just be great if we could all accept each other regardless of our racial, gender, sexual and other differences. *sigh*

Will it really foster greater acceptance and understanding?

Someone made a very good point about racism being genetic yet racism hasn't been eradicated. Maybe this just adds ammunition for those who want to 'punish' people for their differences.

Anonymous said...

Its crazy all this talk about genetics with all the aspect of being gay.I knew it was more than the attraction between the same sex.The other thing is im glad i have a new reason when some 1

Wendy C. said...

Amazing. It remind me of the stories from the oooold days when people with siezures were accused of being possessed by the devil - and then stoned to death. Who knew?

Wendy C. said...

My husband read a study in college (and for the life of me I don't remember who to attribute it to)that suggested that exposure to stress hormones in utero lead to a higher incidence of homosexual children - their reference group was children born in post WWII Germany. I do not know where that research lead, but thought it was interesting. Maybe scientists will work on developing a virus that will carry "tolerance" into our genes!

scrappy rose said...

Very interesting for sure. I wonder if this sort of research will lead to gay being identified as a genetic disorder?

for_the_lonely said...

Does this hold true for only gay men or for lesbians as well? Either way, it is very interesting research!

Have a great Monday!


Raine said...

ok if they research it I guess- just as long as they dont "cure" it. What an incredible loss that would be. I am a "straight" woman but I have and have had gay and lesbian friends in my life and my life would have been less for not having had them in it

Anonymous said...

Really interesting post Deb. It does raise some interesting concerns, as all the other commenters have said.

I agree with what you said - love is love. I think its so incredibly difficult to find someone special that gender shouldn't matter. Everyone has the right to be happy.

Skye said...

Hi! Great post! I missed quite a bit while I was away, thought I'd swing by and say "Hello". :)

Todd and in Charge said...

Interesting, but as the good Doctor said, genetics can only explain a piece of the puzzle, not the whole thing. Unfortunately, geneticists tend the view everything through their specific prism, which can lead to a form of determinism that perhaps is not healthy. And this study is just in time for similar themes explored in X-Men III.

Candace said...

Wonderful post, Deb, and I especially enjoyed reading everyone's comments.

This study shows that there is a definite genetic component to homosexuality. This should (but probably won't) put to rest the argument that it is a "choice." I wonder if fanaticism is a choice or caused by a virus? :)

The genetic research available to us now that the human genome has been mapped is a fantastic opportunity to understand ourselves as a species.

Dr. Deb said...

Dear FAllen,

Dear Wanda,
There are manys studies on sexuality but this one was the one I saw, so I posted it. I believe that we will learn so much more as time goes by about all sexuality...and I hope it brings openness not intolerance.

Dear Healthpsych,
Good points, as usual, you are making. I am a hopeful thinker, and believe that "understanding" is the door that gets opened here. Being blue eyed is not a genetic disorder, or brown haired, nor should sexuality be seen as such. But there will be those who take any new discovery and warp it. Sad ::Sighs::

Dear Kemia,
I like your sense of humor. I believe that our humanity is comprised of "science" and "nature" and "nurture". How's that for a triple play?

Dear Wendy,
YES, what a fantastic point! How pirmitive our thinking was back then. I heard about that study too, but I think it went ka-flewy and out of favor becasue of the study'es scientific design.

Dear Scrappy,
I certainly hope not. As I mentioned above, being brown eyed is not a genetic disorder. Being red headed is not a genetic disorder. See my point?

Dear Sarah,
The difficulty with research is how it tends to get generalized so easily. I like to look at a study and see it in a frame. This study suggested a genetic possibility in gay men and mothers. I would not want to speculate beyond that. But I would say, very comfortably, that sexuality has genetic underpinnings.

Dear Raine,
I agree!

Dear Beth,
Well said!!!

Dear Skye,
Hello right back 'atcha.

Dear Todd,
You rock. Your comment was so smart. When you added the X-Men III segue, I nearly fell outta my chair. So funny you are!

Dear Candace,
Your comments is so poignant. I like to be a hopeful thinker as well, believing that advances help to braoden our awareness. We are kndred spirits, you and I.


Tracy said...

Very What and interesting article. Thank you so much for sharing this.

Angel Chasse said...

Hey Dr Deb :)

Good point made here. I think genetic research is GREAT, and I hope that it continues to be important enough to stay in our nation's budget :)

I agree with the folks here that say this genetic finding is important, but like most everything in life, this is just one piece in a very complex puzzle.

Thanks for posting this!!

Angel (again)

Anonymous said...

I read that in animal populations like wolves, the homosexual male often adopts the orphan pups. Maybe that is the reason for homosexuality. Ironic that gays now often use artificial means to have kids instead of adoption. I also saw a video that said there were more gay males born after the London Blitz due to the stress hormones the moms had.

jumpinginpuddles said...

so how about a blog on twins ? Seeing it was raised.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps this is God's way of telling us we've procreated ENOUGH and it's time to love one another & get married because of their soul, not their procreation abilities.
I wonder if it's the father's genes that effect lesbians sexual orientation.
I have a feeling that no matter how much scientific evidence exists, there will still see this as nothing more than a promiscuous choice. Education has to start with an open mind, if only we could somehow pry those minds open!

author said...

enjoyed the article although I have the same worries of needing to be "cured" of this disorder.
I enjoyed the adult discussion. So refreshing to post a hot topic and have adults discuss it like adults.

Dr. Deb said...

Dear Mysti,
I am a teacher at heart, so I like to share knowledge.

Dear Angel,
I agree. The human race is most unique and complex!

Dear Anonymous,
I've heard of those studies too. I think that there is so much more to learn, and so many more minds to open!

Dear JIP,
What a great idea. I will start on that post!

Dear Jane,
I think that is a really great point! Knowlege is a powerful thing. It can open doors, or slam closed others. I am with you, I hope education broadens not narrows perspectives.

Dear Ab,
I am really glad that this topic could be discussed with respect - even though there are differing opinions. I love my readers and appreciate all points of view. So glad you found it all meaningful. Please come back again.


Dirk the Feeble said...

"Genetic research rocks."

You crack me up, Doctor.

Good thing everyone's not born gay - some of us would be "taking one for the team" to keep humanity going.

Id it is said...

"Genetic research rocks", you said it!
Findings such as these will relieve this world of some of its ignorance regarding sexula orientation, and may perchance make us more empathetic toward those who live or seek an alternate lifestyle.
Good post!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Grumpy that "purely genetic explanation for homosexual orientation is not consistent with natural selection" ...

... however, nor are many other conditions which are passed long genetically.

Personally, I'll be relieved to see some sort of scientific resolution to this - for the sake of those who are homosexual, and for the sake of those who see it as a amoral choice.

I have a feeling that when all is said and done, there will be both science (genetics) and psychology (choice) involved.

Astrorat said...

I have always found evolutionary psychology to be interesting. I cant help but wonder if this research applies to gay women as well?

Dr. Deb said...

Dear Dirk,
The comedic effect is mutual. I find you and your witting just about the most clever I've come across in the blogosphere.

Dear Id It Is,
I think knowledge has the power to open minds. Sounds like you do too. We are kindred spirits in that regard.

Dear Moof,
I am not one to hold the belief that there is a total explanation for anything, and I agree with you that many influences press on us as a species.

Dear Astro,
I am always cautious generalizing data, especially from such a small study as this one is, but the point here is that genetics has a hold on many things that make us unique. Thanks for stopping by :)


Godwhacker said...

Fascinating research! I'm glad that so many people are talking about (and hopefully thinking about) this issue. I can only speak for myself, but I think there are a variety of factors that make up my (our) sexuality and that genetics is definitely one of them. The Kensey Scale of human sexuality ranks us from 0 to 6 with 0 being totally heterosexual and 6 being totally homosexual. I would guess that there are a lot more "2 to 5"s then "0"s or "6"s.

Whatever we are and however we got there, tolerance and acceptance for ourselves and others is the healthy attitude to take.

Godwhacker (5.5)

Dr. Deb said...

Dear Godwhacker,
I can appreciate beauty in men and women, and feel that sexuality is a genetic, prewired piece to who we are. Other factors certainly play a role too. In the field of psychology, there is a strong school of belief in one of the factions that we are sexual creatures, and that bisexuality is a given.


Cie Cheesemeister said...

My opinion of homosexuality is that it's a natural aberration in our genetic material given to us by nature/the creator as a form of population control. Approximately 10% of people are gay. This is not a "sin" or something that they "choose." It is simply who they are. And it's about time that science figured it out! I am straight but not narrow, and I am so tired of people's homophobic behavior. Why is the idea of two people of the same sex being allowed to marry so threatening to some??
Cie's House of Rants

Auri-Prince said...

I agree with CrackerLilo - if it is a disease may there never be a cure... Ive enjoyed being gay... I do find myself attracted to women but its not quite the same.

At the same time Im not really seeking a boyfriend I want my mate, I do wonder though... is it possible to activate that gene by contact not so much physical contact but the contact of being around the person. Activated by the person that is meant to activate it, I mean the gay gene and no I dont mean it as an infection or anything like that...

Or is it already there... just being able to go both ways but all of a sudden being attracted to one or more men, after being used to a life of hetero-sexuality...

Or is it simply it was always there and just bi-sexual?

And the other thing I wonder with sexual preference is it strong enough to supress with denial?

any ideas - email me: