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Genomics and Behavior

CITATION:  McGuffin, P., Riley, B., and Plomin, R.  (2001).  Genomics and Behavior:  Toward Behavioral Genomics.  Science Vol 291. No. 5507, pp. 1232-1249.

The genetics of behavior offers more opportunity for media sensationalism than any other branch of current science. Frequent news reports claim that researchers have discovered the “gene for” such traits as aggression, intelligence, criminality, homosexuality, feminine intuition, and even bad luck. Such reports tend to suggest, usually incorrectly, that there is a direct correspondence between carrying a mutation in the gene and manifesting the trait or disorder. Rarely is it mentioned that traits involving behavior are likely to have a more complex genetic basis. This is probably because most journalists—in common with most educated laypeople (and some biologists)--tend to have a straightforward, single-gene view of genetics. But single genes do not determine most human behaviors. Only certain rare disorders such as Huntington’s disease have a simple mode of transmission in which a specific mutation confers the certainty of developing the disorder. Most types of behavior have no such clear-cut pattern and depend on interplay between environmental factors and multiple genes. Genes in such multiple-gene systems are called quantitative trait loci (QTLs), because they are likely to result in continuous (quantitative) distributions of phenotypes that underlie susceptibility to common disorders.


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