GeneWatch Vol. 24 No. 6
GeneWatch Volume 24 Number 6 | October-November 2011 THE MAGAZINE OF THE COUNCIL FOR RESPONSIBLE GENETICS | ADVANCING THE PUBLIC INTEREST IN BIOTECHNOLOGY SINCE 1983 Behavioral Genetics ISSN 0740-9737 Inside >> Interview: Jonathan Beckwith on behavioral genetics research A Brief History of the ‘Gay Gene’ by Timothy Murphy Interview: Paul Billings on forensic DNA and the private sector GeneWatch October-November 2011 Volume 24 Number 6 Editor and Designer: Samuel W. Anderson Editorial Committee: Jeremy Gruber, Sheldon Krimsky, Ruth Hubbard GeneWatch is published by the Council for Responsible Genetics (CRG), a national, nonprofit, taxexempt organization. Founded in 1983, CRG’s mission is to foster public debate on the social, ethical, and environmental implications of new genetic technologies. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of the staff or the CRG Board of Directors. Address 5 Upland Road, Suite 3 Cambridge, MA 02140 Phone 617.868.0870 Fax 617.491.5344 www.councilforresponsiblegenetics.org board of directors Sheldon Krimsky, PhD, Board Chair Tufts University Peter Shorett, MPP Treasurer The Chartis Group Evan Balaban, PhD McGill University Paul Billings, MD, PhD University of California, Berkeley Sujatha Byravan, Phd Centre for Development Finance, India Robert DeSalle, Phd American Museum of Natural History Robert Green, MD, MPH Harvard University Jeremy Gruber, JD Council for Responsible Genetics Rayna Rapp, PhD New York University Patricia Williams, JD Columbia University staff Jeremy Gruber, President and Executive Director Sheila Sinclair, Manager of Operations Samuel Anderson, Editor of GeneWatch Andrew Thibedeau, Senior Fellow Magdalina Gugucheva, Fellow Editorial & Creative Consultant Grace Twesigye Unless otherwise noted, all material in this publication is protected by copyright by the Council for Responsible Genetics. All rights reserved. GeneWatch 24,6 0740-973 Editor’s Note Samuel W. Anderson While we were putting together this issue, Council for Responsible Genetics board member Sheldon Krimsky suggested I look into “genopolitics,” a subset of behavioral genetics dealing with the genetic basis for political behaviors. More specifically, he suggested I look up the phrase “Genetic Variation in Political Participation.” The article with that title, published in the American Political Science Review in 2008, led me to a trove of studies connecting various elements of human “political behavior”—from the fervor of one’s partisanship to whether or not one turns out to vote—to a genetic basis. This was great fun, especially after reading the opinions of some who had been warning for years of the fallibility of claims that various specific behaviors are “heritable.” Two common themes emerged of many of the studies in question: a reliance on twin studies, and a failure—sometimes blatant—to properly take into account environmental factors. When I spoke with Jonathan Beckwith about this (page 8), he recalled a study on the heritability of intelligence in which the researchers attempted to discern how much their subjects’ environments might also contribute to their development by counting the “number of books” in their subjects’ places of residence. (No word on whether General Relativity was counted the same as The Da Vinci Code.) The study “Genetic Variation in Political Participation,” authored by James Fowler, Laura Baker and Christopher Dawes, fits right into that canon. The research, like so much behavioral genetic research, is based on twin studies. In short, it compares a group of identical twins, who share all of their DNA, to a group of non-identical twins, who don’t. The premise: if the pairs of identical twins turn out to be significantly more likely to share the same voting habits (both twins vote or neither does) compared to the non-identical twins, this suggests “that a signiﬁcant proportion of the variation in voting turnout can be accounted for by genes.” More specifically, they found that “53% of the variance in turnout behavior can be accounted for by additive genetic effects,” coming in well ahead of “the shared environment” (35%) and the “unshared environment” (12%). Let’s think about that a moment. Doesn’t it sound like they are suggesting that the number one most likely reason Joe shows up at the polls on voting day more often than his non-identical twin, Jill, is because he inherited some gene, or combination of genes, that makes him more likely to vote? In fact, that is just what they are saying. This is one of those studies that doesn’t pass the “sniff test,” continued on page 18 Write to (or for) GeneWatch GeneWatch welcomes article submissions, comments and letters to the editor. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to submit a letter or with any other comments or queries, including proposals for article submissions. 4 The Crumbling Pillars of Behavioral Genetics As attempts to tie complex human behaviors to specific genes keep coming up short, researchers’ bold predictions come back to haunt them. By Jay Joseph 8 Behavioral Genetics Research An interview with Jonathan Beckwith 11 A Brief History of the ‘Gay Gene’ Is there a genetic basis for sexuality? ... And does it even matter? By Timothy F. Murphy 13 In Our DNA? It is increasingly clear that our behaviors are not hard-wired into our genes. By Stuart Newman 15 Wising Up on the Heritability of Intelligence Arguing that intelligence is genetic, Darwin’s cousin launched a brand of research that has done great harm and little good ... and which persists today. By Ken Richardson 19 The Business of DNA Forensics An interview with Paul Billings 23 Behold, the Isotope Technologies of Biography and the UK Human Provenance Project. By Jason Silverstein 25 In the Wrong Hands: A DNA Database in South Africa A proposed forensic DNA database would put South Africans’ genetic information in the hands of a police force with a dubious human rights record. By Poonitha Naidoo 28 Changing Seeds, or Seeds of Change? There are many reasons for concern as international biotech corporations eye Africa. By Natalie DeGraaf 31 Consumers Call on FDA to Label GE Foods After being left in the dark about what they’re eating, consumers call for labeling of genetically modified foods. By Colin O’Neil 33 Endnotes The images on this page originally appeared in The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals by Charles Darwin, published 13 years after On the Origin of Species. Volume 24 Number 6 GeneWatch 3 The Crumbling Pillars of Behavioral Genetics As attempts to tie complex human behaviors to specific genes keep coming up short, researchers’ bold predictions come back to haunt them. By Jay Joseph Schizophrenia researcher Timothy Crow wrote in 2008 that molecular genetic researchers investigating psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia had previously thought that “success was inevitable—one would ‘drain the pond dry’ and there would be the genes!” But as Crow concluded, “The pond is empty.”1 Four years later the psychiatric disorder and psychological trait “gene ponds” appear to have been completely drained, and there are few if any genes to be found. Twenty years ago, however, leading behavioral geneticists had high expectations that molecular genetic research would soon “revolutionize” the behavioral sciences. During that heady period of the early-1990s, leading behavioral genetic researchers such as Robert Plomin attempted to shift the field’s focus towards gene finding efforts. After all, they reasoned, “quantitative genetic” studies of families, twins, and adoptees had established beyond question that variation in “normally distributed” psychological traits such as personality and cognitive ability (IQ), as well as psychiatric disorders and abnormal behavior, had an important genetic component. The decade of the 1990s did in fact witness an explosion of molecular genetic research attempting to pinpoint the genes believed to underlie these traits and disorders. This was followed by the publication of the initial working draft of the human genome sequence in 2001, which many researchers believed would lead to rapid gene discoveries in psychiatry and psychology. According to a pair of prominent researchers, writing 4 GeneWatch in 2003, “Completion of the human genome project has provided an unprecedented opportunity to identify the effect of gene variants on complex phenotypes, such as psychiatric disorders.”2 As we approach 2012, however, behavioral genetics and the allied and overlapping field of psychiatric genetics are attempting to come to grips with the stunning failure to discover genes. These fields appear to be approaching a crisis stage, if they are not there already. Critics, on the other hand, have argued all along that both twin studies and family studies are unable to disentangle the potential roles of genes and environment. They have pointed out for decades that the validity of equal environment assumption (EEA) of the twin method is not supported by the evidence, and that the much more similar environments experienced by reared-together monozygotic (MZ) versus reared-together dizygotic (DZ) twin pairs confound the results of the twin method. Therefore, both family studies and twin studies prove nothing about genetics and their results can be completely explained by nongenetic factors.3 Most behavioral geneticists agree with this assessment as it relates to family studies, but continue to maintain that twin studies provide conclusive evidence that genes play an important role.4 Critics have also pointed to the massive methodological problems and untenable assumptions found in psychological and psychiatric adoption studies, as well as the major problems and environmental confounds in studies of purportedly reared-apart twins.5 Behavioral geneticist Erick Turkheimer described the competing positions of behavioral geneticists and their critics in 2000: Gene discoveries to come would signify behavioral geneticists’ “vindication,” whereas “critics of behavior genetics expect the opposite, pointing to the repeated failures to replicate associations between genes and behavior as evidence of the shaky theoretical underpinnings of which they have so long complained.”6 Turkheimer, however, recognized in 2011, “to the great surprise of almost everyone, the molecular genetic project has foundered on the…shoals of developmental complexity…”7 Behavioral genetics and the related fields have recently adopted the “missing heritability” position to explain the ongoing failure to uncover genes.8 Proponents of this position argue that genes (“heritability”) are “missing” because researchers must find better ways to uncover them, as opposed to some critics’ contention that the failure to discover genes indicates that these genes do not exist.9 By the summer of 2011 it had reached the point where 96 leading psychiatric genetic researchers, in an open letter, asked potential funding sources not to “give up” on genome-wide association (GWA) studies.10 In light of the ongoing failures of molecular genetic research, it is worthwhile to look back at the way that behavioral geneticists have written about the search for genes, including numerous claims and predictions published in textbooks and leading scientific journals. Here I focus mainly on the writings of the world’s leading October-November 2011 and most influential behavior geneticist, Robert Plomin of King’s College of London, Institute of Psychiatry, who is the lead author of a frequently cited multi-edition textbook on the subject: Behavioral Genetics.11 Three Decades Predictions of Claims and As far back as 1978, DeFries and Plomin claimed that “Evidence has accumulated to indicate that inheritance of bipolar depression involves X-linkage in some instances.”12 Although these and other claims were Volume 24 Number 6 not replicated, psychiatric molecular genetic research took off in the 1980s, a decade that witnessed many more highly publicized, yet subsequently unsubstantiated, gene finding claims. Nevertheless, another group of prominent behavioral genetic researchers wrote in a 1988 Annual Review of Psychology contribution, ‘’We are witnessing major breakthroughs in identifying genes coding for some mental disorders.’’13 In the 1990 second edition of Behavioral Genetics, Plomin and colleagues wrote, “During the past decade, advances in molecular genetics have led to the dawn of a new era for behavioral genetic research.”14 They argued that “these techniques are already beginning to revolutionize behavioral genetic research in some areas, especially psychopathology.” However, these “revolutionary advances” were not actual replicated gene findings. Also in 1990, Plomin predicted in Science that “the use of molecular biology techniques will revolutionize behavioral genetics.”15 Plomin and his colleagues published a 1994 molecular genetic study in which they found DNA markers associated with IQ.16 However, this study, as well as all subsequent molecular genetic IQ studies, was not replicated.17 In another Science publication, Plomin and colleagues reported genetic linkages and associations for reading disability, sexual orientation, alcoholism, drug use, violence, paranoid schizophrenia, and hyperactivity.18 In the third edition of Behavioral Genetics, published in 1997, the authors repeated their position that psychology is “at the dawn of a new era” on the basis of “molecular genetic techniques.”19 For these authors, “nothing can be more important than identifying specific genes involved” in psychological traits and psychiatric disorders. In the same year, Rutter and Plomin wrote that although gene discoveries had not yet been made in psychiatry, “it is obvious that these are likely to be forthcoming very soon as findings with respect to schizophrenia…affective disorder…and dyslexia…all show.”20 Plomin and Rutter published a 1998 article in Child Development, where they informed developmental psychologists that “Genes associated with behavioral dimensions and disorders are beginning to be identified.”21 They added, “as associations between genes and complex behavioral traits are found, they are beginning GeneWatch 5 to revolutionize research.” The authors were attempting to prepare psychologists for gene discoveriesin-the-making which they believed would soon revolutionize their field. In another 1998 publication, Plomin and colleagues wrote that a pair of 1996 studies claiming an association between genes and the personality trait of “novelty seeking” constituted a “watershed” event for the field.22 At the dawn of the new millennium, Plomin and Crabbe predicted in 2000 that “within a few years, psychology will be awash with genes associated with behavioral disorders as well as genes associated with variation in the normal range.” They also predicted that in the future, clinical psychologists would routinely collect patients’ DNA “to aid in diagnosis and to plan treatment programs.”23 Elsewhere in 2000, Plomin wrote that genes “are being found for personality…reading disability… and g [general intelligence]…in addition to the main area of research in psychopathology.”24 In 2001, at the time of the publication of the first draft of the sequence of the human genome, McGuffin, Riley, and Plomin published an article in Science entitled “Toward Behavioral Genomics,”25 repeating the 1994 claim that gene linkages and associations had been discovered for traits such as aggression, schizophrenia, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), male homosexuality, and dyslexia. In the same year, Plomin and colleagues published the fourth edition of Behavioral Genetics.26 Here they claimed that “ADHD is one of the first behavioral areas in which specific genes have been identified,” and they continued on their theme that “one of the most exciting directions for genetic research in psychology involves harnessing the power of molecular genetics to identify specific genes responsible for the widespread influence of genetics on behavior.” Having entered the “postgenomic era,” in 2003 Plomin and McGuffin claimed “progress…towards finding genes….although progress has nonetheless been slower than some had originally anticipated.”27 They wrote that the identification of genes for schizophrenia “remains elusive,” and the “story for major depression and bipolar depression is similar to schizophrenia.” Nevertheless, they It reached the point where 96 leading psychiatric genetic researchers, in an open letter, asked potential funding sources not to “give up” on genomewide association studies. 6 GeneWatch continued to believe that the future of molecular genetic research in psychiatry “looks bright because complex traits like psychopathology will be the major beneficiaries of postgenomic developments,”28 although they wrote a year later that researchers would need “very large samples” to uncover genes.29 In the period 2003-2004, Plomin began to write more about gene discoveries as something that had not yet occurred, and less about discoveries that had been made or were in the process of being made. He wrote about “future…molecular genetic studies of DNA that will eventually identify specific DNA variants responsible for the widespread influence of genes in psychological development.”30 Elsewhere, he recognized that “no solid” gene associations for IQ “have yet emerged,” and that “the road ahead will be much more difficult than generally assumed…”31 Plomin’s frustration became more apparent the following year, when he publically asked, in relation to gene finding attempts, “When are we going to be there?” Plomin answered, “Being an optimist, my response is ‘soon,’” and recognized that his readers might be “skeptical, because they have heard this before.”32 Although Plomin claimed as always that the field was moving toward gene discoveries, he believed that behavioral genetics remained only “on the cusp of a new post-genomic era…” He and his colleagues had decided not to produce a new edition of Behavioral Genetics, he wrote, “until we had some solid DNA results to present.”33 Although the next (fifth) edition did report some purported gene associations, the fact that none was replicated meant that they were not so “solid” after all. Currently, some continue to believe, and lament, that we are still on this “cusp.” In a 2010 publication, Haworth and Plomin appeared to give up hope that GWA studies would uncover genes anytime soon, writing that “it seems highly unlikely that most of the genes responsible for the heritability for any complex trait will be identified in the foreseeable future.” They added, “we hope that our prediction about GWA research is wrong…” In the process, they fell back on the ad hoc “missing heritability” theory to explain GWA failures.34 Indeed, they recognized that genome-wide association studies “are struggling to identify a few of the many genes responsible for the ubiquitous heritability of common disorders” and psychological traits. In the face of the unexpected and disappointing failures of GWA studies and previous molecular genetic research methods, Haworth and Plomin argued that the field should return its focus to quantitative genetic studies of families, twins, and adoptees, which have a “bright future.” Thus, they called for a retreat to previous kinship studies in October-November 2011 light of the failures of molecular genetic research, never considering the possibility that the critics were right all along that the massive flaws and untenable theoretical assumptions of these methods explain these failures. Plomin could not name any replicated gene findings in a 2011 publication, and continued to explain these negative results on the basis of “missing heritability.”35 According to Plomin, “The big question now in molecular genetics is how to identify the ‘missing’ heritability; the big question for non-shared environment is how to identify the ‘missing’ nonshared environment.” As critics have argued, both are “missing” because behavioral geneticists have mistakenly interpreted twin studies as providing unequivocal evidence in favor of genetics. Plomin and his colleagues continue to place total faith in twin research, and continue to ignore the implications of other evidence, which includes Plomin’s own carefully performed 1998 longitudinal adoption study that found a non-significant .01 personality test score correlation between birthparents and their 245 adopted-away biological offspring. According to Plomin and his colleagues, this birthparent-biological offspring correlation is “the most powerful adoption design for estimating genetic influence,” which “directly indexes genetic influence.”36 Conclusion Science writer John Horgan published a critical appraisal of behavioral genetics in a 1993 edition of Scientific American.37 Horgan noted that although there were many gene finding claims for traits such as crime, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, alcoholism, intelligence, and homosexuality, none of these claims had been replicated. He presented the results under the heading, “Behavioral Genetics: A Lack-of Progress Report.” We can now update Horgan’s Volume 24 Number 6 “progress report” and issue the field of behavioral genetics its apparent final report card: The evidence suggests that genes for the major psychiatric disorders, as well as for IQ and personality, do not exist. As Turkheimer concluded in 2011, in light of the failures of molecular genetic research, it is time to develop a “new paradigm.”38 Simply put, the gene finding claims and predictions by Plomin and other leading behavioral geneticists turned out to be wrong. The best explanation for why this occurred is not that “heritability is missing,” but that previous and current claims that psychiatric and psychological twin studies prove something about genetics are also wrong. We cannot expect the proponents of behavioral genetics to recognize that the historical positions of their field are mistaken, that their prized research methods and “landmark” studies are massively flawed and environmentally confounded, and that family, social, cultural, economic, and political environments—and not genetics—are the main causes of psychiatric disorders and variation in human psychological traits. Because most leaders of the field will not allow themselves to see this, it is left to others to show that the pillars of behavioral genetics are crumbling before our very eyes. We are indeed at the “dawn of a new era,” but it will be an era very different than the one that Plomin and his colleagues envisioned. nnn Jay Joseph, PsyD, is a licensed psychologist and the author of The Gene Illusion and The Missing Gene. Race? Debunking a Scientific Myth “New techniques and new approaches can and will tell us an enormous amount about the biological history of our species; but they also teach us that this history was a very complex one that is very inaccurately – indeed, distortingly – summed up by any attempt to classify human variety on the basis of discrete races. While we can acknowledge that our ideas of race do in some sense reflect a historical reality, and that human variety does indeed have biological underpinnings, it is important to realize that those biological foundations are both transitory and epiphenomenal. Despite cultural barriers that uniquely help slow the process down in our species, the reintegration of Homo sapiens is proceeding apace. And this places the notion of “races” as anything other than sociocultural constructs ever more at odds with reality. Increasingly, it seems, we are simply who we think we are.” - from Race? Debunking a Scientific Myth By Ian Tattersall and CRG Board member Rob DeSalle Available from Texas A&M University Press. Order by calling 800-826-8911, or visit www.tamupress.com. GeneWatch 7 Behavioral Genetics Research An interview with Jonathan Beckwith Jonathan Beckwith, PhD, is a professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at Harvard Medical School. GeneWatch: Do you see a trend in the amount of research oriented toward finding a genetic basis for human behaviors? Jonathan Beckwith: At this particular moment, yes. It seems to go in waves. What surprises me is that the wave seems to be peaking again right now, at a time when, at least in terms of using all the new genetic technologies, there is an increasing question about the utility of what’s being done. GW: Do you have any idea why that is? JB: I think a component of it is that people outside of the field of contemporary research in genetics are getting into it. I think certain groups of psychologists have always been interested in genetics, but now it’s also people in other fields, like political science. GW: It seems like, at least up until recently, twin studies have been critical for a lot of behavioral genetics. Do you see that as a cause for concern? JB: Yes, I’ve always thought it’s an area of concern. The history of twin studies has gone through these ups and downs: they’ve been considered very important at points, then people have found problems with them, and then people in the field have come back and claimed to have overcome the problems. Twin studies are generally done by people who are not actually in the field of genetics, but are usually in psychology departments; and I think 8 GeneWatch today, geneticists who are looking for genes associated with behaviors have relied on the finding of high heritabilities for certain traits from the twin studies, even though I don’t think they have looked at them carefully enough to realize all the problems of twin studies. I think that comes out very strongly in a current favorite topic among geneticists, the “missing heritability.” The point is that people are looking for genes that are associated with certain behavioral conditions, or to mark chromosomal regions that are associated with those conditions, encouraged by the claimed high heritability obtained in twin studies. But when they find genes or regions of chromosomes that they think contribute to behaviors, their contribution to the heritability of the traits is much less than that predicted by the twin studies. So there’s this supposed puzzle: what’s happened to the missing heritability? GW: Of course, supposing it’s missing is supposing it was there in the first place, based on the twin studies. JB: Exactly. GW: Are there any genes in particular that get a lot of attention in behavioral genetics? JB: Certain genes are favored for explaining all sorts of things, like the Monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A) gene and the dopamine receptor gene. There’s a whole list of behaviors for MAO-A, but the ones that get particular attention are aggression, and it’s come to be called “the warrior gene.” GW: Is that similar to the “criminal gene?” JB: Oh, yes—it goes back a long way. It started in the ‘90s. The very first paper that got a lot of attention and was discussed in the media as a “criminal gene” was a study of one family, where a number of the men had a mutation in a gene that completely knocked out its function. The study found an association with “antisocial behavior.” That was picked up by the media to be called a “criminal gene,” and even the senior author on the paper publicly stated, at least at a scientific meeting, that it was ridiculous to call it that. Then, in the early 2000s, there was a group that presented a more subtle analysis, basically on some very common polymorphisms of the MAO-A gene, two of which are present in a significant part of the population. They found, by various measures, increased “antisocial activity,” but only when the subjects had been subjected to child abuse. The problem is that a number of people have tried to replicate this, and a good portion of them have not been able to; it’s not clear why. It is argued that the reason the MAO-A and dopamine receptor genes have been focused on is that October-November 2011 they are well-studied genes involved in brain function. Because this is one of the few genes that there were very early studies on, a lot of people who are studying various behavioral traits look at those candidate genes to begin with. However, since there are so many people looking at those particular genes to associate them with a behavior, inevitably some people are going to find a correlation just by statistical chance. That may explain why many of these findings cannot be replicated. approaches, if they found any genes or chromosomal regions correlated with such traits, they found, at best, large numbers (sometimes hundreds) of genes (rather than a single gene). Even then, all of these genetic variants were still only contributing a small percentage of the variation in expression of that particular trait. GW: Do you think that if someone is going into the study set on finding heritability that it can ever be a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy? If by going in to a study looking for something, could that make you more likely to find it (or think you’ve found it)? JB: Maybe they start with the belief that genetics is very important in these behaviors; but also, like a lot of other fields, people have moved into genetics because there’s so much money available. There are people from the social and political sciences who are getting grants from the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation to do science which ignores the lessons learned from previous failed attempts to find genes for complex human traits. JB: I think it may be, and if enough people are looking for the same thing, eventually some people are going to find it—but then it’s not replicated, which goes into the long history of this field. I particularly think that’s a problem because of people coming in from other fields who haven’t been through the experiences of the last 20 or 30 years of research in genetics, and who are unaware of all the criteria that are necessary to really define things. That is, some of the work is just simply of very poor quality, not correcting for all the things that geneticists learned to correct for after a lot of false alarms. Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, there were a whole set of reports about single genes for homosexuality, schizophrenia, manic depression, risk-taking, happiness, etc. Those reports turned out to be wrong or have not been replicated. At that point, geneticists were very unsophisticated about statistics. They were using inappropriate statistical approaches and made other incorrect assumptions that required continuing revisions of the criteria needed in order to draw conclusions. When people used more appropriate Volume 24 Number 6 GW: Why do you think there has been an influx of people from fields outside of genetics conducting studies to find a genetic basis for certain behaviors? GW: Do you have any sense of why the NIH would be putting money into finding a genetic basis for things, even if it doesn’t seem, in a lot of cases, any more successful than finding environmental influences? JB: Well, that’s what NIH does, mainly. And of course there’s just been a very big push for genetics recently. Now with the National Human Genome Research Institute, it’s a major segment of what the NIH is doing, and a lot of promises have been made about what’s going to come out of it. But I don’t particularly know why they and the National Science Foundation are funding studies that deal with genes for moral judgment or voting habits, for example. GW: Right—it’s hard to see the utility of figuring out whether or not there’s a genetic basis for whether or not people vote. Do you have a sense of what the political scientists and other people studying those things— ”genopolitics”—are hoping to get out of it? JB: I’m not sure … certain people in genetics see this field taking over, more and more, in the way in which E. O. Wilson, when he came out with his book Sociobiology in the 1970s, made the argument that sociobiology was going to subsume many other disciplines. GW: After reading about certain claims linking a behavior to a genetic basis, the question I always find myself asking is: If something as complex as whether or not we show up to vote can be explained largely by our genes, what behaviors can’t? JB: First of all, I just have to say, that particular paper is one of the worst, I think. It’s a surprisingly bad paper—at least to somebody who has been in the field or watching it carefully for the last twenty years or more. What you asked reminds me of a conference I went to many years ago about behavior and genetics which was mainly based on twin studies in those days. The meeting was attended by both critics and practitioners in the field. One of the people got up, a quite well known geneticist who had been doing twin studies for ages, and he talked about the studies they were conducting on various behavioral issues, using identical twins and so on. And he said, “We realized we needed a control in this study of something that wasn’t genetic. So we decided to ask about people’s religious attitudes as a control,” since that wouldn’t be genetic. Instead, he said: “We found that was genetic too!” That was the most bizarre thing. It’s kind of an elemental scientific problem—you can’t just change your control into an actual subject that you’ve proven something with—but he wasn’t GeneWatch 9 joking. He’s published on that, in fact. GW: Do you think this is sometimes a symptom of people coming into the field of behavioral genetics from outside of genetics—this idea of not just problematic study design, but going out and presenting those results without waiting to see if they are replicable? JB: It’s not really the same thing. I would say that, more than other fields, people come in with preconceived notions. And I don’t think they were thinking about science, in terms of what it means to be doing science, the way that people in other fields were. For example, one of my favorite beefs about the identical twin studies is a major assumption behind these studies, the equal environment assumption. That was unchallenged—it was a hidden assumption, I don’t think they even felt they had to state it— that is, that if you looked at fraternal twins and identical twins, since they were born at the same time and grew up in their families and the world at the same time, that the two types of twins essentially share the same environment to the same degree. From someone outside the field, it’s an obvious question whether that’s true or not, but that was an unchallenged assumption until maybe 30 years ago, although twin studies have been going on since the early part of the 20th century. It was only then that they decided they had to do something to test those assumptions—which I don’t think they did very well—and then they published a bunch of studies saying, “Well, we’ve proven the equal environment assumption is correct, therefore it’s not an issue.” GW: How has the equal environment assumption been tested? JB: What they did when they tried to test the assumption, once it had been challenged, was pretty simple, I thought. If it was a genes and 10 GeneWatch intelligence study, they would go and count the number of books in the house of the twins, for example. Supposedly, one is asking the question: What are the influences that determine intelligence? If you don’t know what they are, it’s not clear exactly what you should be looking for, and just looking at a few things—the parents and their education, or the number of books in the house—isn’t necessarily telling you much, because you don’t know if you’re looking at the right things. are affected and where in the body the gene is expressed. Such correlations are simply not very meaningful without much deeper study and the reporting of them is extraordinarily premature. GW: Another question that seems to sometimes be missing after a gene for something has apparently been identified is: What is the mechanism? In the political participation study, it’s not surprising that although they claimed to identify a genetic basis, they didn’t have an explanation for why those genes would influence whether or not someone votes. Is that a reason to raise an eyebrow? JB: I would say that most of the time, when the media presents these findings in a dramatic way, there are at least hints from the scientists themselves that it should be taken that way. That’s not always the case, though— sometimes scientists who produce the work become quite dismayed at its interpretation by the media. The MAO-A “criminal gene” study I mentioned before is an example. I spoke to one of the researchers afterwards, and the publicity was so horrendous to her … for example, there was a Newsweek article that discussed the finding of this gene, called it a “criminal gene,” and had a picture of Arabs and Israelis fighting. It got really blown out of proportion, and she was really very upset. She actually said she would never work on that subject matter again. And the senior person on that study did make a statement about how it shouldn’t be called the “criminal gene” or the “aggression gene.” For these rueful scientists, some of this might have been avoided if the education of the scientist could prepare us to be more sensitive to the social implications of our work. On the other hand, I think there are many other instances where it’s very clear what the intent of the authors is, if not in their publication, then in their press conferences or public statements. nnn JB: I think because of the false alarms, people have to be very careful. Before jumping into dramatic conclusions about what it means, they have to know more about the function of the gene. I’ll give you an example. A researcher, actually someone associated with our department, was doing studies on mice. I think they knocked out a gene in the mice, and they found that the mice no longer nurtured their progeny. It actually was a big story, at least in the local papers, that “the gene for nurturing” had been found. But it turned out that this gene was a major regulator of a huge number of different processes, and without it the mouse was just not a healthy mouse in general—so it’s hardly a “gene for nurturing.” That kind of criticism can certainly come up when people are looking at a gene and see an effect on a behavior and don’t even know what the gene does, how many processes in the body GW: I guess when you start hearing things like “the gene for nurturing,” the researchers might not have had that in mind or might not have expressed it that way—is it often the case that other people, at least in the media, are sort of taking the idea and running with it? October-November 2011 A Brief History of the ‘Gay Gene’ Is there a genetic basis for sexuality? ... And does it even matter? By Timothy F. Murphy In 1929, neurologist John F.W. Meagher observed that “Indulgent male inverts like pleasant, artistic things, and nearly all of them are fond of music. They also like praise and admiration. They are poor whistlers. Their favorite color is green . . . where most individuals prefer blue or red.”1 Like many clinicians and psychologists before him, Meagher believed that some people were homosexual for genetic reasons, and that these account for the alleged similarity in tastes and behavior. Others pointed to genetics as an explanation of homosexuality, too. The psychologist Richard von KrafttEbing (1840-1902) said in 1886 that “An explanation of contrary sexual feeling may be found in the fact that it represents a peculiarity bred in descendants, but arising in ancestry.”2 Not everyone has turned to genetics to explain homosexuality, especially since homosexuality could arise situationally. But the idea that genetics was responsible for some homosexuality led some clinicians to express worries that homosexual men and women would pass that sexuality on to their own children, should they have them. Even the foremost advocate of the rights of homosexual people of his time, Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935) cautioned that “from the viewpoint of race hygiene, the marriage of a homosexual is a risky undertaking.”3 Volume 24 Number 6 The idea that sexual orientation was biological for some people did not, however, close the door to the idea of therapy for homosexuality. Krafft-Ebing thought a return to heterosexuality was possible for at least some ‘inverts.’ Yet the idea of a biological basis for sexuality did give some psychologists pause about whether psychotherapies could work. Psychologist Havelock Ellis (1859-1939) worried that even if homosexual men could bring themselves to engage in heterosexual intercourse, the underlying “perversion” would remain largely undisturbed. He called intercourse under these circumstances masturbation per vaginam.4 For his part, Freud thought of human beings as psychically bisexual by nature, as able to express erotic interest in both male and females. Freud saw exclusive homosexuality as a halfway phase between autoeroticism and mature sexuality.5 Even so, he thought of some men and women as congenitally disposed to homosexuality, not that he thought psychoanalysis could go much beyond that conclusion: “It is not for psychoanalysis to solve the problem of homosexuality. It must rest content with disclosing the psychical mechanisms that resulted in determining the object choice, and with track back the paths from them to instinctual dispositions.”6 In the end, Freud was skeptical about sexual reorientation, but did not rule it out altogether. The theory that homosexuality is genetic—and therefore inborn in at least some people—was resisted by certain psychologists and clinicians who were unwilling to give up the idea of therapy. In 1957, a British government committee issued The Wolfenden Report, which declared that homosexuality was not itself evidence of a disease and which recommended decriminalizing homosexuality among adults. In 1963, psychiatrist William Menninger wrote a forward to a copy of that report published in the United States. Contrary to the spirit of the Report, he noted that homosexuality ranks high in the kingdom of evils. He said, “Whatever it be called by the public, there is no question in the minds of psychiatrists regarding the abnormality of such behavior.”7 He thought there were ways to re-educate and rehabilitate homosexual men and women, and he called on medicine to rise to the challenge of restoring heterosexuality to all men and women. Gradually, however, genetic researchers challenged the dominance of psychological accounts of homosexuality. In the early 1950s, psychiatrist Franz J. Kallman carried out the first studies of homosexuality in twins.8 Kallman looked at 95 cases of twin brothers and found that among GeneWatch 11 the dizygotic twins, 60% showed no evidence of homosexuality, while 11.5% exhibited a homosexual orientation meriting a 5 or 6 rating on the Kinsey scale (“predominantly” or “exclusively homosexual”), making both brothers more or less exclusively homosexual. By contrast, among monozygotic twins, Kallman reported a 100% concordance: if one brother was homosexual so was the other. Not only that but “most of the one-egg pairs tend to be similar in the role they take in their individualized sex activities, as well as in the extent of feminized appearance and behavior.” He concluded that there was a “gene controlled disarrangement in the balance between male and female . . . tendencies.” Kallman’s method of subject selection biased his results, and his interpretation of the data fails to account for other factors that might contribute to a sexual orientation shared by twins, such as shared developmental environments. Later studies would also indicate that monozygotic twins might share a homosexual orientation in common more frequently than with other brothers, but none of these studies—and there have only been a handful—indicate that genetics are entirely decisive. The idea that homosexuality is genetic or in some other way involuntary certainly did not put an end to sexual orientation therapy. Some therapists specifically rejected the idea that homosexuality was genetic. While this kept the door open to psychological “therapies,” it did sometimes have the beneficial effect of casting castration and hormonal injections into doubt as treatment options. Other therapists held that homosexuality could be altered in spite of a biological origin. For example, in 1970, J.N. Marquis advocated the use of “orgasmic reconditioning” to change sexual orientation. In that therapy, a homosexual client would be advised to masturbate 12 GeneWatch according to his usual fantasies and imagery of males, but at the moment of climax switch to female fantasies and imagery. In theory, sexual orientation would follow where pleasure led it. In puzzling over the origins of homosexuality, clinicians and researchers have rounded up the usual suspects when it comes to explaining human traits: genetics, early biological events, and psychological development. Genetics is a seductive siren in this regard, since it deals with organisms at their lowest level of causality. From time to time, contemporary genetics studies of homosexuality appear and ping-pong their way through the media; but none have accounted for human sexual orientation in any definitive way, and if the past is a prologue to the future, neither will they entirely extinguish the idea that sexual orientation is immutable. What has really killed most interest in sexual orientation therapy is not proof of the genetic origins of homosexuality, but the rejection of the notion that homosexuality is a condition that needs to be “cured.” If we wish to promote social equality for gay men and lesbians, the origins of their sexual identities is beside the point. Genetic Justice: DNA Data Banks, Criminal Investigations, and Civil Liberties National DNA databanks were initially established to catalogue the identities of violent criminals and sex offenders. However, since the mid-1990s, forensic DNA databanks have in some cases expanded to include people merely arrested, regardless of whether they’ve been charged or convicted of a crime. The public is largely unaware of these changes and the advances that biotechnology and forensic DNA science have made possible. Yet many citizens are beginning to realize that the unfettered collection of DNA profiles might compromise our basic freedoms and rights. Two leading authors on medical ethics, science policy, and civil liberties take a hard look at how the United States has balanced the use of DNA technology, particularly the use of DNA databanks in criminal justice, with the privacy rights of its citizenry. Sheldon Krimsky is a founding member of the CRG Board of Directors, Professor of urban and environmental policy and planning at Tufts University, and author of eight books and over 175 published essays and reviews. Tania Simoncelli is a former member of the CRG Board of Directors and Science Advisor at the American Civil Liberties Union. She currently works for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Timothy F. Murphy holds a doctorate in philosophy from Boston College and is Professor of Philosophy in the Biomedical Sciences at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago. He is the author of Gay Science: The Ethics of Sexual Orientation Research (Columbia University Press), and in 2012, The MIT Press will publish his next book, Ethics, Sexual Orientation, and Choices about Children. October-November 2011 In Our DNA? It is increasingly clear that our behaviors are not hard-wired into our genes. By Stuart A. Newman Behaviors are innate or environmentally induced novel or habitual actions by humans or other organisms that, at a minimum, involve interactions between the nervous system and other organs. A gene specifies the sequence of subunits of a single RNA or protein molecule. How is it possible for specific behaviors to be associated with particular genes? Can anything significant be learned from such associations? One persistent view, increasingly discredited in recent years, is that genes collectively provide a blueprint or software program for the generation of all organismal characters—anatomical structures, but also behaviors—and variant genes are lines of code of alternative programs. So, for example, two recent reports in the journal Nature Genetics described evidence that variations within any of 11 DNA regions in the human genome have a strong association with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or both.1 One of the studies’ authors was quoted as stating, “Our findings are a significant advance in our knowledge of the underlying causes of psychosis—especially in relation to the development and function of the brain.”2 The expectation that such genetic associations will provide insight into how the brain generates normal or abnormal behaviors is directly connected to belief in the notion of a genetic program. No one would assert that learning the chemical Volume 24 Number 6 composition of a piece of tile from a medieval mosaic represents a significant advance in understanding the meaning of the art work. But when it comes to living organisms which operate individually and socially on multiple spatial and temporal scales and have assumed their present forms and behavior patterns over billions of years, genetically reductionist explanations can unfortunately still be advanced without evoking derision. The acceptance of this bizarre way of thinking, which is even more prevalent in the scientific and medical professions than in lay society, derives from a particular theory of evolution that has prevailed over the past century. Referred to as the Modern Synthesis, it links Darwin’s idea of natural selection as the generator of all inherited traits to the notion that genes and their variants are the only significant determinants passed from one generation to the next. All standard features of an organism, e.g., the five fingers of the human hand or the propensity of humans to live in social groups, are consequently considered adaptations. By this argument, pathological behaviors that are endemic to many societies, like racism and rape, are likely to be adaptations as well (or sometimes negative but understandable misappropriation of adaptive behaviors).3,4 And now that a “genetic basis” is claimed to have been discerned for psychosis, it is all but certain that some evolutionary psychologist is laboring to uncover its benefits on the prehistoric savannah. Fortunately, a new concept of evolution is now taking hold. In various subdisciplines like “evolutionary developmental biology”5 and “ecological developmental biology”6 there is increasing receptivity to the idea of a loose, nonprogrammatic relation between the phenotype (particularly the behavioral phenotype) and the genotype. This includes an openness to the notion that the external environment may influence the development of inherently plastic living systems,7 not in arbitrary ways, but in ways constrained by the forming systems’ inherent modes of action.8 The “Baldwin effect,” the name given to a GeneWatch 13 concept put forward by the psychologist J. Mark Baldwin in the PostDarwinian period of intellectual ferment before the Modern Synthesis consolidated its grip, in a paper titled “A New Factor in Evolution,”9 has gained renewed prominence. This is a “phenotype first” scenario in which a character or trait change occurring in an organism as a result of its interaction with its environment becomes assimilated (often by Darwinian selection) into its developmental repertoire. The descendent organisms are then born with the novel phenotype rather than having to acquire it each generation. In this emerging theoretical framework not every persistent phenotype is an adaptation, organisms with novel anatomies or behaviors need not sink or swim in pre-existing niches but can construct new ways of life compatible with their new biology,10 and genes often play catch-up, consolidating behavioral or other phenotypic changes after the fact.11 This has permitted conceptual accommodation of older, puzzling findings and has energized previously proscribed research programs. Genetics, since it deals with an intrinsic set of determinants of all living systems, is far from being sidelined in the new approach, but genes must now take their place alongside other key factors. A set of studies in Siberia, beginning in the 1950s, on farmed foxes, for example, showed that docile, human-friendly behavior could be propagated from parent to offspring, along with a suite of morphological attributes (shortened snouts, floppy ears, patchy coat color) seen in other, unrelated, independently domesticated animals, by a selective breeding protocol that acted not on gene frequency but on the level of stress hormones in the 14 GeneWatch gestational environment.12 A more recent study demonstrated the passing on of grooming behavior from mother to daughter mice by the effects on the offspring’s biology of the behavior itself.13 In both studies an effect on DNA was one of the steps in trait transmission, but the DNA was not irreversibly changed, nor was it the first or unique event in the behavior modification. Sexual dimorphism is one of the best known examples of the abovementioned plasticity, and of the fact that an animal embryo can potentially follow alternative routes of development. In humans, this decision, with both anatomical and behavioral consequences, is specified by genes. Males differ from females by having an entire chromosome, the Y, with a set of genes which are absent in the female genome; with two X chromosomes a biological female takes form. Only one of these malespecific genes, SRY, is needed for development of a male body and male gender identity, however.14 If, as in XX male (de la Chapelle) syndrome, SRY winds up on the X chromosomes and no Y is present, the resulting anatomical and behavioral characteristics are still typically within the standard male range. From the above it would seem that SRY is the gene for maleness. Indeed, its production sets the male developmental pathway in motion in most mammals, including marsupials. But some rodents, such as spiny rats, just use extra copies of the CBX2 gene, which is also present in females, to perform the same function15 So maleness can be generated without a specific gene for it, perhaps just needing more of some gene. But even this notion is refuted if we cast our zoological comparisons a little wider. In some birds and fish, and in many reptiles, particularly turtles, sex determination is controlled by the egg incubation temperature. That is, with respect to prospective sexual phenotype the genotype of the embryo is a matter of indifference. If it develops at a low temperature it will become a male, and if at a high temperature, a female. (Or vice versa, for some turtle species; or, in the case of other turtle species, female if high or low and male in between.)16 Now that a “genetic basis” is claimed to have been discerned for psychosis, it is all but certain that some evolutionary psychologist is laboring to uncover its benefits on the prehistoric savannah. So for behaviors, reproductive and otherwise, and even for characters as deeply dimorphic as sexual anatomy, specific genes make a difference, or other genes make the same difference, or the difference is made by the social or physical environment acting on the organism during development—including, of course, the expression of many of its other genes. This reality consigns to the realm of tea-leaf reading any notion that we can infer the underlying cause of a behavior solely from its correlation to some gene variants. Stuart A. Newman, PhD, is Professor of Cell Biology and Anatomy at New York Medical College. He was a founding member of the Council for Responsible Genetics. October-November 2011 Wising Up on the Heritability of Intelligence Arguing that intelligence is genetic, Darwin’s cousin launched a brand of research that has done great harm and little good ... and which persists today. By Ken Richardson from IQ correlations in pairs of twins. Since then, results of a number of twin studies of cognitive ability have suggested a sizeable heritability of between 0.5-0.8, meaning that 50-80% of the variance in cognitive ability is genetic in origin. So twin studies, and correlations between IQ test scores, became the dominant paradigm of human behavior genetics. History Behavioral genetics has covered a wide range of topics, and, in animals, a respected history of scientific work. In humans, though, its work has been more controversial, dominated by “fitness” for social roles and rank and, therefore, cognitive ability or “intelligence.” Indeed, it was Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, who argued that fitness in humans depended on “General Ability or Intelligence” and proposed “to show … that a man’s natural abilities are derived by inheritance.” To do this he set up the world’s first mental test center in London in 1882. Using simple tests of mental speed, memory, sensory acuity, and so on, he wanted to show that scores would match social status or “reputation.” Unfortunately for his theory, they didn’t; but Galton’s strategy—using test scores as surrogates for differences already “known”—laid the foundations of human behavior genetics. It only remained to find the “right” test. This was indirectly provided by Frances Binet’s work in Paris. He had been devising school type tasks—general knowledge, comprehension of sentences, simple arithmetic, and so on—for screening children in school for special treatment, and produced his first test in 1904. Because scores depended on family background, these tests did correlate with social class. Galton’s followers in Britain and America seized upon them as what they had been looking for— their test of “innate” intelligence— and quickly translated them for use in their anti-immigration and eugenic policies. But this still didn’t actually Volume 24 Number 6 Definition of Phenotype and the IQ test prove that score differences are due to inheritance. The problem was partly solved by R.A. Fisher in 1918, who introduced the statistical concept of “heritability,” the proportion of trait variance attributable to genetic variance, from experimental breeding programs in agricultural species.1 Its validity lay in knowing the genetic background and environmental experiences of the organisms, which we don’t tend to have in humans. But Cyril Burt thought he had solved that problem when he estimated the heritability of intelligence Since we cannot measure intelligence directly����������������������� —���������������������� not least because psychologists cannot really agree what it is—the validity of Binet-type IQ tests depends entirely on inferences from correlations. Since tests were constructed to predict school achievement, which determines entry to the job market, there is an inevitable correlation between test scores and occupational and social status. Behavior geneticists draw considerable conviction from these correlations, as if they represent proof of a causal mental power. However, scores have little if any association with job performance and, as Joan Freeman’s studies have shown, are not reliable indicators of adult careers. High achievers in adulthood did not tend to shine above the average as children; and we don’t find m�������������������������������� embers of MENSA, the high IQ society, dominating the ranks of high achievers in society. What this “intelligence” is, or what actually varies, therefore, is still not clear after more than a century of scientific inquiry. As prominent behavior geneticist Ian Deary puts it, “There is no such thing as a theory of GeneWatch 15 human intelligence differences—not in the way that grown-up sciences like physics or chemistry have theories.”2 Or, as Carl Zimmer put it in Scientific American, “intelligence remains a profound mystery…It’s amazing the extent to which we know very little.”3 Instead, cognitive behavior-geneticists rely on a kind of mystique around test demands, as if they were equivalent to cognitively complex tasks. However, the vast majority of IQ test items are simple tests of memory and general knowledge with a high learned literacy/numeracy (and, therefore, social class) content: “What is the boiling point of water?”; “Who wrote Hamlet?”; “In what continent is Egypt?” and so on. Much weight is placed on the “Raven” test (Raven’s Standard Matrices), and other non-verbal tests, said to measure “abstract reasoning,” detached from cultural learning. As for complexity, there seems little to distinguish test items from the complexity of reasoning required in everyday practical and social tasks carried out by nearly everyone. Analyses have found little evidence that “level of abstraction” (defined informally) distinguishes item difficulty. As ���� Téglás and colleagues have shown, even 12-month-old infants are good at “integrating multiple sources of information, guided by abstract knowledge, to form rational expectations about novel situations, never directly experienced.”4 As for being “culture-free,” what is overlooked is that, like languages, cognitive styles differ according to the kinds of activities most prominent in different cultures and social classes. In studies of formal logic and reasoning, it is a classic finding that different problems of equal complexity can be of widely different difficulty to different people. Western societies are deeply class stratified along occupational lines, which create starkly different activities and habits of thought. 16 GeneWatch Figure 1. A simple matrix test item: the correct entry for the blank space has to be selected from an array of six alternatives not shown here. As cognitive psychologist Lev Vygotsky argued, such activities “determine the entire flow and structure of mental functions.”5 Accordingly, much research shows how “ways of thinking,” and even brain networks, are shaped by cultural activities. What ��������������������������� is clear about the Raven test is that the cognitive processes demanded are those most common in middle class cultural activities: reading from top-left to bottom right; following accounts, reading timetables, and so on. It is not testing individual’s rank on some fixed scalar power so much as their “distance” from forms of knowledge and thinking deemed to be the norm by test designers. This is indicated by the massive gains in average IQ scores (including Raven scores) over time as more people have moved from working class to expanding middle class occupations (the socalled “Flynn effect”). Methods - Twin studies and heritability estimation Strong claims about IQ heritability suggest that behavior geneticists have firm measures of the genetic variance underlying the (not so clear) phenotype of intelligence. On the contrary, neither the genetic nor environmental values are actually known. Rather these are (again) inferred from correlations among relatives, on the basis of a host of unlikely assumptions. Identical, or monozygotic (MZ), twins share all their genes, and tend to correlate around 0.7-0.8 on IQ. We can infer that this resemblance is due to their common genes, and the rest is due to differences in environmental experiences. But the correlation could be due to the environments that they also share, and the remainder due to errors of measurement (which are often forgotten). If the twins are reared apart, in completely different environments, then, in theory, the������� correlation would provide a direct estimate of heritability. In practice, it has been extremely difficult to find suitable samples of twins reared apart in completely uncorrelated environments, so estimates derived from them have been highly dubious.6 Consequently, most heritability estimates have come from comparisons between the resemblances October-November 2011 (correlations) of MZ and Dizygotic (DZ, nonidentical) twins. We might expect MZ pairs, who share all their genes, to be more similar then DZ pairs, who share only half their genes on average, so it can be inferred that differences in average resemblance or correlation between kinds of twins is related to differences in genetic similarity. Through formulae explained elsewhere, heritability is usually estimated from twice the MZ-DZ difference in correlations: h2 = 2 (rmz – rdz). More recently, some sort of statistical modelling (usually, structural equation modelling) has been used, which has some advantages. But such modelling also makes a number of assumptions that may or may not be valid. Now let us look at some of those assumptions. The first is that human intelligence can be treated exactly like a simple quantitative trait such as height or weight, and that the relevant genes, although possibly numerous, exert effects additively (independently of each other). Otherwise—if there were interactions between genes or genes and environments—it would be impossible to determine what correlations to expect. It is also assumed that “environments” contribute to differences in the same additive way. As we shall see, this flies in the face of what we now know; yet there are few serious attempts to rule out such interactions in the twin IQ data. What has drawn the most attention of critics, though, is the “equal environments assumption.” The twin method requires that the environments of MZ pairs are no more similar than environments of DZ pairs, on average; otherwise, those variations could partly or entirely explain the correlation differences. As it happens, the assumption is flatly contradicted by numerous studies. In one review, Volume 24 Number 6 David Evans and Nicholas Martin said “There is overwhelming evidence that MZ twins are treated more similarly than their DZ counterparts.”7 Studies reveal that MZ twins are more likely to share playmates, bedrooms, and clothes, and to share experiences like identity confusion (91% vs.10%); being brought up as a unit (72% vs. 19%); being inseparable as children (73% vs.19%); and having an extremely strong level of closeness (65% vs. 19%). Parents also hold more similar expectations for their MZ than DZ twins. Behavior geneticists have a tendency to wave these differences aside as if they don’t really matter, but they can easily explain part or all of the differences in IQ resemblance and grossly inflated heritability estimates. There are other problems that might distort heritability estimates. A major—and problematic—prior assumption of these estimates is that there will be substantial (additive) genetic variance underlying all individual differences. In actuality, it is one of the laws of natural selection that, for traits important to survival, additive genetic variance tends to be reduced across generations, creating cohesive, interactive genotypes. Indeed, many experimental and observational studies have confirmed this.8 Over a decade of genome-wide molecular studies meant to take us “beyond” heritability have failed to find genes for IQ. One explanation often proposed is that the gene effects are cumulatively present, but individually too small to be separately detected. So investigators have returned with greater resolve, recently, to “proving” IQ heritability. For example, the recent report by Davies and colleagues, brought out with press reports and much media coverage, claims to “establish” and “unequivocally confirm” (surely unedifying terms in any science) just that. As usual, the study involves a host of “ifs” and assumptions, including the dubious one that genetic effects can be treated as a random (independent) variable. But it also uses a device for extrapolating from identified to non-identified variances which David Golan and Saharon Rosset recently describe as “a questionable heuristic.”9 Moreover, subjects were in their upper ‘60s and ‘70s (and, therefore, non-representative in other respects); and heritability estimates varied from 0.17 to 0.99(!), depending on combinations of samples and tests. Intelligent Systems What is definitely unclear is why this enterprise continues. It is now GeneWatch 17 widely accepted that heritability estimates of intelligence, are, in the human context, of little practical relevance. Even if accurately achieved (which so far seems unlikely) they do not predict the likely developmental endpoints for individuals or groups, or the consequences of interventions; they have told us little reliably about genes or environments; and they have not helped to provide a “grown-up” theory of intelligence. As the originator, Ronald Fisher himself, said: ������ “(heritability) is one of those unfortunate short-cuts which have emerged from biometry for lack of a more thorough analysis of the data.” One reason is that, behind all the controversies, there are different world views of the nature of genes and environments, traits and their development. The “genes” and “environments” of the behavior geneticist are abstract, idealistic entities with little interaction, a linear determinism that defines limits on individual development and, therefore, social status and privilege. On the contrary, the recent “omics” revolution—the creation of a broad range of research areas, including genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, interferomics, and glycomics—suggests the very opposite of such independent, linear effects. It suggests how processes and systems utilize higher information structures geared to changing environmental contexts. Various discoveries now show how i�������������������������������� ntense cross-talk between multitudes of gene-regulatory pathways provide complex non-linear dynamics. These dynamics can create novel developmental pathways, often proposing new targets for selection. They integrate the transcription of genes contextually, often “rewiring” the gene network in response to changing environments. In addition there are the vast regulatory functions of alternative splicing, messenger RNA, vast numbers of non-coding RNAs, and so 18 GeneWatch on, all depending on cooperative interactions. These explain why many different phenotypes can develop from the same genotypes, or the same phenotype from different genotypes; and why a population of individuals of identical genes developing in identical (or closely similar) environments can exhibit a normal range of behavioral phenotypes. Even at this level, the “dumb” independent factors, and simple quantitative traits, of the behavior geneticist have disappeared into highly interactive intelligent systems. Metabolic networks ��������������������������� evolved into nested hierarchies of still more intelligent systems: physiological systems; nervous systems and brains; cognitive systems; and, finally, the human socio-cognitive system. On “top” of this nested hierarchy the socio-cognitive system differentiates according to dominant cultural activities, making humans far more adaptable than any system of independent genes. IQ tests simply collapse this enormous diversity into a (pretend) scalar trait. What is allocated to the category “genetic variance” is, in reality, variation in the expression of nested dynamic systems. This is why a leading behavior geneticist of IQ, Eric Turkheimer, has had to admit, recently, that “The systematic causal effects of any of these inputs are lost in the developmental complexity of the network.”10 It seems ironic that the current unfolding of the real nature of intelligent systems is leading to the eclipse of the Galton paradigm. nnn Ken Richardson was formerly Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Human Development and Learning, The Open University, UK (now retired). He is the author of Understanding Psychology; Understanding Intelligence; Origins of Human Potential: Evolution, Development and Psychology; Models of Cognitive Development and The Making of Intelligence. continued from page 2 especially given the multitude of studies showing the importance of environmental factors. Some of the most common factors lie outside of this study, since the twins are, presumably, the same age and race. The authors of the study also accounted for education level, which has been shown to be far and away the most significant indicator of voting turnout (79% of college graduates vote, versus 57% of high school graduates and 43% of high school dropouts). But the study—again, like so many other twin studies—rests heavily on the “shared environment” assumption: that there is no significant difference between the way identical twins and non-identical twins grow up; that a pair of nonidentical twins share the same environment growing up, just as a pair of identical twins do. I can’t dispel that assumption in this little editorial, but luckily for the curious reader, several of the pieces in the following pages do quite a good job of it. Whatever the reliability of the methods, one of the big questions one has to ask, after reading studies connecting genes to everything from political participation to sexual preference, trying to reduce complex behaviors into a very narrow causation, is: What is really being accomplished here? Why are we studying this? With more people in fields from psychology to political science turning to genetics to pull down more research funds, the authors of the genopolitics study seem to know what their real accomplishment is: “These studies provide the ﬁrst step needed to excite the imaginations of a discipline not used to thinking about the role of biology in human behavior.” nnn October-November 2011 The Business of DNA Forensics An interview with Paul Billings Paul Billings, MD, PhD, is Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of the Council for Responsible Genetics and Chief Medical Officer of Life Technologies, Corp. This interview represents his own views rather than those of Life Technologies. GW: Is the business of DNA forensics a recent addition at Life Technologies? PB: No, we’ve been involved in this space for some time. GW: Is it a field that’s growing recently? PB: We don’t stay in business lines that don’t grow! That wouldn’t be doing our job for our shareholders. DNA forensics has grown well over the last ten years or so. We think it will grow as the technologies become better and better. As they get more specific, and also better in terms of lower cost—and potentially faster—there will be more use for them. GW: Who might those future customers be? Are we talking about small crime labs? PB: I don’t think so. One of the issues to date has been that the efficiencies of the current system where it is deployed aren’t optimal, so you have catch-up work in those areas. Then you have new populations, whether they be countries coming online or different subgroups within the countries coming online, where there would be greater need. As an example, there are large population centers in the world where this technology hasn’t really been applied or used as a forensic tool. They Volume 24 Number 6 have crimes where people are wrongly accused and need to be exonerated, and they have crimes where this material may help to find the real criminal. So what I’m really saying is that the technology is very accurate, very quick, and not very costly, and it allows some of the developing markets to take advantage of it as well. GW: Can you give a quick idea of what technologies exactly we’re talking about—what are the products themselves? PB: We make the components of DNA forensic tests. We provide the amplification and analytic tools, whether they be genotyping for the variable CODIS regions or direct sequencing of that material—which doesn’t go on very much, but as sequencing becomes less expensive it may go on more. We provide all the instruments and reagents to allow laboratories to do that. GW: Is there any consulting that goes along with this work? PB: We would be asked to consult with a lab in a country, where a contract to provide forensic identification exists. It could be the government lab—the model for delivering this stuff varies from country to country. Some are governmental labs, some are contract labs. We would consult with the lab directors to make sure they are doing the absolute top-quality work. Our interest is that whatever forensic DNA analysis is going on, that it be absolutely the best quality, so that the number of scientific or laboratory errors is reduced to an absolute minimum. GW: As Life Technologies is moving into a new country—maybe it’s France, maybe it’s somewhere like India or South Africa—beyond just the technical aspects, how is the company involved in sowing the seeds for … PB: We’re not. The company stands for ethical and appropriate use of DNA technologies. As an example, at the last meeting of all our employees—we have about 10,000 employees—the featured guest was a guy who had been exonerated by the Innocence Project, and they had used our technology. He basically went up there and said, “I owe you my life.” He was talking both about the lawyers at the Innocence Project and also about the fact that the technology existed and was done properly so that a sample that had existed for—I don’t know how long, but he had been on death row for 18 years—that sample could be extracted and analyzed using our methods to exonerate him. We stand for the ethical and appropriate use of high quality identification technology to assist the judicial process. The decision about whether that evidence is appropriate for a country’s judicial process is not our business. All they can know is that if they decide to apply it, we’re going GeneWatch 19 to make sure, to the best of our ability, that whatever they are applying is good science and is done properly. GW: On the technical end, sure, but what do you take into consideration if you’re working with a country where there are concerns about how the technology might be misused, however good the science is? PB: Like all corporate citizens, we’re cognizant of countries that are imbalanced in how they apply certain policies. We try to influence those countries in appropriate and legal ways. But on the other hand, we also believe that sloppy science or poor technology doesn’t serve anybody’s aims. There are obviously disputes at hand about what is the proper balance of when the technology has the opportunity to impact the system, whether your judicial system involves a debate between the prosecutor and the state, and the defense, who gets to use the technology and how much probity it has on both sides. That’s a balancing debate, and different people come out in different ways on that. I happen to believe personally in broad access. For instance, I don’t believe that all arrestees should have their DNA taken and they should become the pool. Or, at least, if you start to go down that road, you have to have a totally non-discriminatory policy, which is that everyone in the country has to give a DNA sample as a part of citizenship. I think you could make an argument that that would be a fairer system. GW: How much do you know about some of the specific projects that Life Technologies is working on right now? For instance, there’s a new database that they’re working on in Russia that Life Technologies appears to have some role in—maybe just supplying technology, maybe more than that? PB: I don’t know many specifics as 20 GeneWatch the medical and forensic functions are separate. I know that we have a contract in Russia, to provide them technology, but I don’t know anything about the database that they’re trying to develop or not. GW: What about in India? There’s a controversial DNA database bill being discussed there; also, earlier this year, Life Technologies established a distribution center in Bangalore. Is that a coincidence? PB: We are one of the largest suppli- ers of general research reagents to the laboratory industry in India, so the fact that we would build a distribution center there may have nothing to do with the forensics line at all. providers—we’re not the only provider, but I would say we’re the premier provider—the providers bid, and the country makes a determination based on those bids. It’s like getting a grant: they’re deciding who they want to invest in. GW: When you’re responding to the request for proposals, what kinds of things are being asked? What is this contract? Is it just to provide technology? PB: Yes, almost always. there are usually components of [the request for proposals], and maybe they put it all out as a single request, or sometimes they break it up, but there is the supplying of a laboratory with the components so it can do this kind of testing, and do it effectively; then there’s kind of an informatics solution, where you need software that can take stored data and compare it to new data; and then you need all the informatics to be able to database the stuff so that you can make those comparisons. Then, of course, there’s a huge amount of quality assurance involved, to make sure that once the laboratory is doing these analyses, there are controls, and that the quality of the lab result remains high. So companies bid on different parts of that. As I say, sometimes it’s a one or two component request, sometimes it’s a multi-component request. GW: I’m curious about how it works for a private company to work with a national government, setting up a new national forensic DNA database. Does the company approach the country? GW: I was under the impression that there was more happening where companies would be taking the initiative with a country—maybe where there is some interest happening already— PB: No, the other way around. In general, the policy issue is resolved in whatever way that particular political entity resolves those issues; so they decide that as a matter of policy, they want to do some forensic DNA identification program. Then they usually put out a request for proposals, and PB: The fact that there is a company like Life Technologies which has a business line to supply the labs that do DNA identification or forensics … we would be the last ones you would ask for an opinion about whether you should be doing this program or not, because we have a clear conflict of October-November 2011 interest. We think that there’s value in DNA forensic programs, there’s no doubt about that. So if you’re still in the debating stage about whether you should have a national database or how big that program should be, that’s an issue that you would not invite Life Technologies to participate in, because again, we have a point of view. Once you’ve established what you want to do, then you ask us in, because we can tell you what can be done at top quality. GW: I guess what I meant was less about at what stage a country would ask industry to come in so much as where industry takes initiative; there’s a marketing department looking for new customers, and where there might be an opportunity to be proactive, to go in and lobby. PB: LIFE is not a lobbying organization. We are experts in the technical aspects of DNA forensics. When asked by those who are making policy, we will provide technical advice and specifications. Similar to my work at CRG, we would be asked as experts to consult with the political forces so that they would know at least what is possible and what is not, in terms of the quality, scope and cost of the technology. I’m sure if one looks back at the legislative history in various countries, or the processes by which certain proposals have come forward, I’m sure that there has been consultation with industry as these programs get developed. But everybody knows what our point of view is, so it’s really as technical experts, not as policy experts, that we’re consulted. And we try to be influential in that narrow area. GW: I’m not just thinking of Life Technologies—I mean, there are other companies that do this work, right? PB: Well, sure. In businesses like ours, there is training and awareness of laws including the Corrupt Business Volume 24 Number 6 Practices Act, which basically talks about bribing officials to get markets created in other countries and things like that. We don’t want to be involved in anything like that in any way, so there’s lots of training that our sales and business units receive about what the law is, what’s allowable and what’s not acceptable or legal. It really does not serve our purposes at all to get involved in practices that are inappropriate, illegal or unethical anywhere We would be the last ones you would ask for an opinion about whether you should be doing [a forensic DNA database] program or not, because we have a clear conflict of interest. or that might appear to be so. It does serve our business interests to be a high quality technical consultant, so that whatever programs are initiated are of the best quality. GW: Are you aware of any examples, not necessarily at Life Technologies, where this industry is involved in lobbying? PB: Life Technologies participates mostly indirectly through larger association membership and lobbying in Washington, but we don’t have any lobbying outside the United States that I’m aware of. Outside our own business, I’m not aware of any specific instances, but as you know, some questionable practices and potential violations have come to light over the years in other industries. do a lot of work with personalized medicine. Do you see any particularly noteworthy similarities or differences between that work and forensic DNA work? PB: Well, yes and no. There’s no interplay except at the level of the technologies being the same—the similarity of DNA isolation for the purposes of personalized medicine versus forensics—but there’s no mixing of the business units or information or anything like that. There are similarities involving needing good controls; supplying laboratories that are doing personalized medicine with protocols that allow them to do very sensitive, very specific testing that yields the optimal amount of information; understanding the role that comparative databases play in understanding some of the information being generated in personalized medicine; and also understanding that all information has a yin and a yang to it. Even if you have very accurate forensic identification, how are you using it? It can be used by the prosecution, or it can be used by the defense. Both have legitimate roles; the question is, do both have equivalent access? Similarly, in personalized medicine, the information can be highly proven and very useful, it can be speculative, or it can be bogus. So what is the quality of the evidentiary base that justifies its use? While we don’t have any special expertise in that, we do recognize that it’s an important component in the final analysis. One other thing that I think is quite unique about Life Technologies: we’re really about universal access to this technology. We’re driving very hard to improve its quality and reduce its cost, to the extent that people all over the world and from all sorts of different socio-economic structures can have access to it. GW: As Chief Medical Officer, you GeneWatch 21 Race and the Genetic Revolution Science, Myth, and Culture Edited by Sheldon Krimsky and Kathleen Sloan “I can hardly wait for this book to begin circulation. It should be read and taught as widely as possible.” —Adolph Reed, Jr., University of Pennsylvania Divided into six major categories, the collection begins with the historical origins and current uses of the concept of “race” in science. It follows with an analysis of the role of race in DNA databanks and its reflection of racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Essays then consider the rise of recreational genetics in the form of for-profit testing of genetic ancestry and the introduction of racialized medicine, specifically through an FDA-approved heart drug called BiDil, marketed to African American men. Concluding sections discuss the contradictions between our scientific and cultural understandings of race and the continuing significance of race in educational and criminal justice policy, not to mention the ongoing project of a society that has no use for racial stereotypes. SHELDON KRIMSKY is professor of urban and environmental policy and planning and adjunct professor of public health and community medicine at Tufts University. He is the author of Science in the Private Interest: Has the Lure of Profit Corrupted Biomedical Research? KATHLEEN SLOAN is a human rights advocate specializing in global feminism. She has run nonprofit organizations for more than twenty years and has directed communications and public relations functions for multinational corporations and nonprofits. CO LU M B I A U NIVE R S ITY PRE S S Tel: 800-343-4499 Fax: 800-351-5073 cup.columbia.edu 22 GeneWatch $35.00 / £24.00 paper 978-0-231-15697-4 $105.00 / £72.50 cloth 978-0-231-15696-7 304 pages, 1 line drawings, 4 tables A PROJECT OF THE COUNCIL FOR RESPONSIBLE GENETICS “Novel and forward thinking, this book will be a valuable addition to a literature that needs to be brought up to speed.” —David Rosner, Columbia University and Mailman School of Public Health ORDER ONLINE AND SAVE 30% To order online: www.cup.columbia.edu Enter Code: RACKR for 30% discount Race and the Genetic Revolution Edited by Krimsky Sloan (304 pages) paper ISBN 978-0-231-15697-4 regular price $35.00, now $24.50 Regular shipping and handling costs apply. October-November 2011 GW: Do you mean personalized medicine or forensics? have technologies which are relatively inexpensive. PB: Personalized medicine. I’ve always thought that if you really believe that personalized medicine—which, to my mind, is medicine that reflects integrated knowledge of your own personal biology—if that’s a truly better medical paradigm than group-based medicine (or phenotypic medicine, if you like), then everyone should have access to it. And for everyone to have access to it, you’re going to have to GW: Would you say the same thing about forensics? PB: Sure. As I said, I have a problem with selective databases in forensics. If you’re going to go down an identification rubric, the question is: is it fairer to have universal identification or selected groups, like convicted people or arrestees? If you allow that this is an important technology that improves the justice system, then the question becomes: how do you best construct a system that optimizes that benefit? Fingerprinting, for routine identification, forensics, passports, driver’s licenses and other aspects of life as a citizen, is almost universal. How should that be constrained in the future? If a more accurate but also affordable technology becomes available, should we adopt it? I don’t think we’ve reached complete policy conclusions on questions like these yet. Behold, the Isotope Technologies of biography and the UK Human Provenance Project By Jason Silverstein Sometime in March 2011, the UK Border Agency quietly abandoned their Human Provenance Project, which sought to uncover the “true” origins of African asylum seekers.1 The Border Agency proposed to “use DNA and isotope analysis of tissue from asylum seekers to evaluate their nationality and help decide who can”—and who cannot—cross the border.2 Following the announcement of the project, Science published an open letter from such noteworthy scientists as Alec Jeffreys which decried the pilot as “flawed,” “horrifying,” and “wildly premature.”3 The editors of Nature Biotechnology wrote that “the project urges us to consider the risks and implications of appropriating genomic data for discriminatory ends, such as border control.”4 Yet, as the Human Provenance Project was conducted, so it concluded, with few details released for public scrutiny. The Border Agency did not disclose Volume 24 Number 6 a single scientist or laboratory that conducted the tests. The reference dataset that served as the metric for “truth” remains confidential. No data or evaluation will see the light of day. The project that was to reveal the identities of asylum seekers has thoroughly concealed its own. In 2009, the UK Border Agency began the Human Provenance Project to calm anxieties over “nationality swapping,” a worry that East Africans would claim Somalia as their country of origin and receive an unjustly favorable asylum decision. The project’s agenda would be to determine the “truly” Somali—and, thus, the most worthy of resettlement—using DNA and isotope studies as ethnic proofs. For the DNA arm, the UK Border Agency used mitochondrial DNA, Y-chromosome, and SNP testing in order to infer ancestry and thus, supposedly, nationality.5 In this essay, I focus on the isotope analysis dimension as I believe it brings into sharp relief the conflict between state identification and personal identity, and how technologies of biography often conceal as much as they reveal. Isotope analysis identifies differences in the occurrence of stable isotopes in order to trace chemical compounds or elements of interest. This methodology is especially useful in archaeology, ecology, and the environmental sciences, and has helped answer questions regarding food sources, prey choice, and chemical turnovers in soil. Recently, however, this technique has gained traction as a forensic tool. Most notably, isotope analysis was used in 2001 by the UK’s National Environment Research Council Isotope Geosciences Laboratory to trace a murdered boy’s torso back to Nigeria in what became known as the “Adam” case.6 That analysis was conducted on Adam’s bone. The UK Border Agency used GeneWatch 23 this sensational case as proof of principle of isotope analysis in forensics. However, rather than extract bone, the Border Agency settled upon hair and fingernails for their origin quest. One scientist described this methodological shift as “adding 2 plus 2 and getting 3 ½.”7 Interviewing isotope specialists, I asked if isotope analysis was a reliable test to differentiate between Somalis and Kenyans, especially those who live on the borderland. It seemed to me that this border situation would be revealing, affording us the most glaring glimpse into the predictive power of the test. Some simple yet unsettling facts emerged quickly in my conversation with Janet Montgomery, an isotope specialist at Durham University. First, the border between two East African countries is political and reflects the choice of man, not nature. There is no reason to suspect that the common and rare forms of an element would simply align themselves according to man-made boundaries. “Unless the border between Somalia and Kenya represented some major geological or hydrological division,” Montgomery wrote, “I cannot see how isotopes will discriminate between people living there let alone living at/on the border.” As Montgomery sharply stated it: “Isotopes do not respect national borders or convey some inherent national attribute. They are not passports.” While one may sometimes be able to distinguish between those living in the UK and those living in New Zealand, for example, such a distinction cannot be made between areas that are not geologically unique; that is to say, precisely the ones that were of interest to the UK Border Agency. Beyond the geological and hydrological divisions, it does not take much to skew isotope test results, as Jason Newton of the University of Glasgow remarked. One’s diet affects the results of isotope analysis. Consuming 24 GeneWatch imported food (for example, from an aid agency) would skew the results toward the food’s country of origin. Even mundane items can corrupt the sample, such as meat, beer, and dairy. Checks on hair obviously are only as meaningful as its length. Consider as well the cross-border trade of commercial goods and cattle, as well as the dominance of a single ethnic group, namely Somali, on both sides of the border. Even in situations beyond the Somali-Kenyan border, we should be careful to recall that refugees often spend years in camps, if ever they should be resettled. However, isotope analysis of hair and nails only reflects the past four to six weeks of one’s environmental exposures. In one interview with a refugee and immigration caseworker in Boston, I was given the anecdote of a man who spent nineteen years in a refugee camp prior to resettlement. An isotope test would no longer identify him as Somali; his identification would now conflict with his identity. His life, according to the Border authorities, would have been literally changed by the experience. Although the UK Border Agency has not released the data that underpinned their pilot testing, Newton’s answer to my question on how he might “ground-truth” the analysis given unlimited resources makes it difficult to believe that such a dataset actually exists: Good groundtruthing would require a large sample of people from all parts of the UK volunteering their hair or fingernails to the study, analyzing H, O, C, N and S isotope ratios to each sample (probably around $100 per person)... another time-related problem is that H and O isotope ratios, which are ultimately related to precipitation isotope ratios, which vary in latitude/altitude and distance from the sea, are variable between seasons (because of temperature changes), but also (less so) between years. This would imply that the groundtruthing would have to be a continuous project (preferably with samples from the same people). In order to utilize isotope analysis to draw out the “truth” of one’s past, world coverage over a continuous time frame would be established. But currently, according to Ken Pye, the forensic geologist who helped solve the “Adam” case, such an isotopic map of the world does not exist.8 What can isotope tests tell us? Currently, in the best-case scenario, Montgomery suggests that the tests provide “exclusive” results (that is to say, the tests can only exclude environments that a person recently inhabited), but cannot provide inclusive results with great specificity. Giving an example from her own recent work, she reports: There are oxygen isotope ratios that would be inconsistent with Britain, for example, and suggestive of a much hotter or much colder place. I have just measured some samples from one of the Franklin Expedition sailors and he clearly was living October-November 2011 in an extremely cold place before he died, but you know, the isotopes can’t tell me if it was the Arctic or the Antarctic. Though the test may appear at first glance, and be advertised as, objective and value-neutral, such an example reminds us that context and subjectivity is required to interpret the results. In the working documents that were released, the UK Border Agency insisted that DNA and isotope technologies would be used only in conjunction with, and as a supplement to, traditional interviewing methods, including documentary evidence and a linguistic analysis.9 Ultimately, though, the weight of the DNA and isotope analysis can be calculated from the following fact: refusal to have one’s past screened through DNA and isotope analysis was equivalent to failure of the test. The Human Genetics Commission, which is the advisory body on developments in human genetics for the UK Government, notes that Asylum Screening Units were “encouraged to ‘draw a negative interference as to the applicant’s credibility’” if the applicant refused DNA or isotope screening.10 In the opinion of the UK Border Agency, “a person in genuine need of international protection would assist the authorities.”11 It is worth pausing to consider how this policy squares with informed consent. What is especially chilling about the UK Human Provenance Project is that it combines procedural neutrality with biological technology. In my work on DNA testing and family reunification, case workers I interviewed have both lamented and praised the role that biological technologies of biography play in freeing them up to be “indifferent,” rather than emotionally troubled that they may have wrongfully decided someone’s fate through miscalculations of traditional forms of evidence. Struggling with deep feelings of accountability for other lives, some of my informants have welcomed supposedly value-neutral technologies. And yet Montgomery and Newton force us to question whether these technologies provide infallible tests of “truth.” Though the UK Human Provenance Project is no longer, this extreme case tells us something about how the appearance of technologies of biography contains a transformative and seductive power. As JeanPaul Sartre writes in his Search for a Method, we should think about this project as “a perspective of the future.”12 Given the American political landscape concerning immigration in which immigrants are often depicted as masses of clandestine criminals, I believe we should hear this story as a cautionary tale. We should be hesitant, and suspicious, when procedural neutrality attempts to blot out human emotions and morals from processes of power. What we have seen in the case of the Human Provenance Project is what Hannah Arendt fears regarding fully formed bureaucracy. That is to say, when biological tests serve as the metric for the “truth” of one’s past, “there is nobody left with whom one could argue.”13 Jason Silverstein is a Ph.D. student at Harvard University in Social Anthropology. In the Wrong Hands: A DNA Database in South Africa A proposed forensic DNA database would put South Africans’ genetic information in the hands of a police force with a dubious human rights record. By Poonitha Naidoo A proposal to empower members of the South African Police Services (SAPS) to collect human tissue samples from living persons and maintain their DNA profiles in a national database is presently being considered in South Africa’s Parliament. The SAPS claim that a highly-populated database under their control is urgently required to curb violent crime. However, human rights activists argue that such a law is contrary to South Volume 24 Number 6 Africa’s newly-founded constitutional democracy. In his inaugural address in 1994, Nelson Mandela affirmed that all South Africans: …will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity. …Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another. Members of the South African Legislature are under obligation to ensure that written laws do not have the potential to undermine the values of human dignity, equality and freedom. The police role In order to appreciate the uncontrolled pervasiveness of crime in South Africa, one must examine its roots which stem from Apartheid. In GeneWatch 25 1996, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established to investigate human rights violations during Apartheid and subsequently reported that the security forces were actively engaged in abducting, killing and secretly disposing of the bodies of a number of black people. The police were also involved in destabilizing communities by supplying certain groups with drugs, arms and ammunition whilst instigating black on black violence between factions. This violent era created a situation where many black people, mostly breadwinners, disappeared. The bodies exhumed by the TRC were previously buried as unclaimed paupers without proper forensic examinations being conducted on them. It was also found that those responsible for the management and burial of unidentified paupers, namely forensic mortuary personnel and funeral undertakers, had erred. In the case of Ntombikayise Priscilla Khubeka, whose original post-mortem examination report had the cause of her death recorded as inconclusive, the exhumation and reexamination of her remains showed that she was executed. Wouter Basson’s predecessor, Lothar Neethling, founded the South African Police forensics unit, which was one facility that was used for research activity involving biological and chemical weapons for use against black people. The projects, which included genetic engineering, involved many scientists and academic research facilities. Although significant, further discussion of the biological and chemical programme does not fall within the scope of this article. What is significant is that Basson and his predecessors worked in close association with the police. All forensic mortuary facilities were managed by the SAPS. A key objective of research conducted was to investigate toxins that caused death without being detected during a post-mortem 26 GeneWatch examination. It therefore suited the Apartheid government to maintain poorly resourced forensic facilities, especially in areas in which they operated. In 2006, all forensic pathology mortuaries were transferred from the SAPS to the Department of Health; however, the forensic science laboratory processing DNA is still managed by the SAPS. Although more than a decade has passed since South Africa rid itself of Apartheid’s unjust laws, police brutality, torture and corruption is prevalent and overwhelming. In 2010, 5 billion rand (over $600 million US) was requested by the South African Police Services for a contingency liability fund to settle claims against the SAPS. Annual reports released by the Independent Complaints Directorate, who monitor complaints against the SAPS, include a high incidence of murder, rape, assault and deaths in custody. Additionally, over 11,900 firearms in police custody disappeared over a five year period despite stringent protocol relating to firearm safekeeping. This confirms the high level of corruption and lack of accountability within the SAPS. To broaden their legislative scope to include medical practice without an advanced legal and ethical restraint in place is a dangerous conception in the face of uncontrolled police corruption, fraud, and torture. Even worse is the proposition that fundamental rights equated to human dignity, only enjoyed by the majority of South Africans since its democracy, can be limited. This indicates a lack of comprehension of privacy rights by the police, who violated these during Apartheid to create the firm foundation for uncontrolled crime. It is the duty of the police to protect every person from harm before the injury occurs. DNA processing and profiling A DNA profile is established by analyzing human tissue and is regarded as a credible examination for determining biological relationships. In South Africa, DNA analysis falls within the scope of licensed medical professionals who practice within an established ethical and legal framework of the Health Professions Council of South Africa. The obligation to respect individual autonomy, which embraces informed consent and privacy, is obligatory. Medical professionals working in this field are highly skilled graduates who must be licensed to practice. Forensic DNA analysis involves the processing of biological samples from living or deceased persons to identify a perpetrator whose DNA will be different than that of the victim. Legislation provides for certain health practitioners to collect human tissue and other relevant samples from the body of a living person. The Inquest Act empowers medical practitioners to remove tissue samples from the deceased for further examination. These are handed to police officers who transport the packaged specimen to a central forensic science laboratory for analysis. However, far too many samples are lost, contaminated or degraded with no result being available at a court hearing. Forensic practitioners are often frustrated that post-mortem reports cannot be concluded without laboratory test results. If the forensic laboratory is under the control of medical personnel, victims and their families will have recourse to advance negligence and professional misconduct claims against those responsible for the loss or contamination of specimens that had the potential to identify a perpetrator. Presently, victims are not afforded this protection as ethical and legal rules relating to DNA analysis do not extend to the police, who escape scrutiny. DNA profiling has its limitations in that biological material must be left behind by the perpetrator at a crime scene. This indicates that samples October-November 2011 collected will include DNA of innocent persons who left traces of their genetic material prior to the crime, rendering them suspects. An innocent person’s DNA can be planted at a crime scene, and the recent manufacture of ‘fake’ DNA by Israeli scientists is of concern. The continued enormous funding and resources required for a national DNA database is impractical considering the country’s state of forensic mortuaries and the shortage of police personnel. Research shows that crime is high in areas that have poor forensic and police services. Apart from this, South Africa is still struggling to compile a digital database of identification numbers, fingerprints and sexual offenders in addition to managing corruption that affects these systems. An important consideration is that not all crimes, such as commercial crimes, require DNA collection and analysis. A forensic medical practitioner possesses the skill to decide on tests required for each case presented. Costeffective prioritization of tests required is part and parcel of an ethical approach as opposed to wasteful expenditure in a developing country. This would allow for funding to be available for investigations in other important areas such as digital fingerprinting and computer data retrieval systems. Forensic DNA profiling is a valuable tool and can be used under the control of a medical professional in cases involving sexual assault, where the specimen collected forms part of overwhelming evidence. Further, profiling in the case of sexual assaults can identify a serial rapist and the geographical area in which he operates. This method has been utilized by South African pathologists to solve crimes that involved serial killings. Volume 24 Number 6 The SAPS receive several sexual crime kits daily which should be immediately analyzed and profiled so that repeat offenders can be sought through intelligent policing by creating a database of individuals connected to the crime. However, the police will only a suspect’s DNA to be analyzed. 4. DNA profiling be requested and supervised by a medical professional. Innocent persons’ DNA must not be on this database. 5. The South African legislature must urgently re-evaluate the broad powers that the SAPS enjoy, and the lack of accountability for crimes committed by their members. 6. The provision allowing police to retrieve human tissue from living persons and to perform DNA profiling must be removed from written law. 7. There is no reason to reinvent the law. Legislation combined with ethical oversight already exists for medical professionals to manage DNA analysis. Crime in SA can be solved with trustworthy, intelligent and consistent policing. To agitate public emotion into believing that the lack of legislation halts forensic DNA processing and promotes crime is a misrepresentation of the fact that this function always has been in the domain of the SAPS; with or without legislation. facilitate testing of a specimen when an investigating officer assures them that a suspect has been apprehended. Recommendations Poonitha Naidoo is a medical doctor in South Africa and a coordinator of the Medical Rights Advocacy Network. 1. The DNA forensic science laboratory becomes an extension of Forensic Medicine, managed and controlled by health professionals with oversight of an independent Ombudsman. 2. Licensed medical professionals have control over the forensic laboratory. This will ensure that the principles of informed consent and confidentiality are respected. 3. A court order must be obtained for GeneWatch 27 Changing Seeds, or Seeds of Change? There are many reasons for concern as international biotech corporations eye Africa. By Natalie DeGraaf Recently, technological solutions to public health issues took on the form of a seed, bringing small farmers to a new crossroads between traditional forms of agriculture and industrial biotech agriculture. There is an extensive and sordid history of the impact that GM crops inflict upon nations, including the US, Argentina and India. Three predominant concerns arise with the integration of GM seeds into African agriculture, all feeding into larger public health priorities. The first concern identifies GM seed integration and corresponding impacts as problematic to individuals and environments. The second highlights GM crops’ ineffectiveness at helping farmers or improving food security in the developing world. Lastly, the triumvirate of private industry, international corporations and governments generate squalid attempts to promote political agendas through GM seed introduction into previously untapped markets and communities. The latter two concerns are particularly crucial to developing nations due to lack of political transparency and accurate assessments of new biotech solutions. As a continent afflicted with severe drought and pest resilience, Africa provides an environment that continues to be exploited by international corporations claiming “massive potential for crop yields.” Amidst the hype, there is a growing opposition to the implementation of GM seeds and the corporations willing to donate them. While many private companies and foundations finance initiatives and research to address the global health issue of food security and hunger, using GM crops to meet these ends will ultimately create a system of 28 GeneWatch dependence on foreign corporations and further deepen social, economic and environmental disparities in African farming communities. Concern 1: Problematic individual and environmental impacts from GMOs There is increasing evidence from the UN and WHO that a strong causation exists between the adoption of GM seeds and environmental degradation, including deforestation. Most research shows a decrease in biodiversity with the introduction of GMOs. This means using GM seeds may actually make agricultural conditions worse than they are presently, not to mention the added threat to the health of humans, insects, and animals. Current international trade policies have heavily regulated importing GM products into the EU as a political response to social outcry of lack of evidence on safety. The safety of GM seeds on the public health and environment is still highly unknown due to a severe lack of unbiased research being conducted external to the reports issued by GM company laboratories. In 2002, the nations of Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique actually refused requested food aid that contained GMOs for fear of health and safety. Farmers in rural India have noted instances of animals dying from grazing on GM crops and new reports are investigating the relationship between increased allergy prevalence and GM foods as well as transference of antibiotic resistance to consumers. Most citizens in developing nations fail to consider these potential health effects because of the perception that government regulation would address such issues. Concern 2: High economic costs associated with using industrial agricultural methods and the ineffectiveness of GM seeds at addressing food security and hunger. Effectiveness of GM seeds to increase crop yield has been repeatedly refuted, along with the economic feasibility of their use. In 2010 GM seed giant Monsanto discovered their seed Bollgard 1 was no longer effective at eradicating the pest ‘bollworm’ that threatens the crops of cotton farmers in India. The bollworm pest developed a resistance to the technology that only a year earlier was deemed a significant technological success by the Union Science Minister. Monsanto responded by creating a new seed, Bollgard 2, and recommending the increased use of pesticides at a higher price to the consumer. This situation proved two points: that GM seed modifications are unreliable and can cause further issues in the long term; and that the cyclical trend of pest resistance necessitates the ongoing development of new, costlier seeds which can trap farmers in the GM web. It’s easy to see how this cycle leaves farmers deeply in debt after spending so much money on the seeds and necessary additives. The cost to mitigate and sustain GM seeds has historically led numerous farmers into deeper poverty, as they require expensive fertilizers and pesticides. Furthermore companies that produce GM seeds prohibit seed saving, a process that small farmers have relied upon for centuries to generate income and ensure livelihoods. October-November 2011 Recent advancements have also allowed Monsanto to now genetically modify seeds to self destruct after one season, preventing farmers from saving seeds from their crop to plant next year and instead requiring them to return to Monsanto for new seeds every year. The hardest hit economically by GM use are the farmers most willing to support the corporations that advertise the benefits of their use. This occurs when farmers enter into deals with GM seed corporations without knowledge, understanding and awareness of the plethora of social, economic and environmental costs. While companies like Monsanto and DuPont may be willing to donate their seeds to small African farmers initially, once the farmers have utilized the seed, they are locked into purchasing them from these companies. This ethically questionable trend puts money only in the pocketbooks of corporations as uneducated farmers make uninformed decisions. In a recent study on the impact of biotech in West Africa, researchers found “little evidence of practical Volume 24 Number 6 application of biotechnology and benefit to farmers and the wider community.”1 Additionally, a recent Worldwatch Report noted the lack of correlation between GM seed food production and rural development; in fact the opposite occurred, with more farmers moving to the city as their lands are taken over by large industrial farmers. Collaborative studies done in Africa also found that GM seeds magnified the gap between socioeconomic classes. With a 90% share of food production in Africa attributed to small farmers, about 20% more than the global average, the introduction of GM seeds threaten to push smallholders out of business in favor of large scale, high-input agriculture. What does all this mean for Africa’s future? It means that GM seeds will place Africa in a poorly situated position to address imperative food issues and promote sustainable economic growth. What is most unfortunate is that Africa already has the tools to combat their food security issues through traditional agro-ecological farming practices. Insufficient evidence exists to show that GM crops produce higher yields and better pest protection than traditional farming practices. A United Nations Rapporteur on food rights concluded that natural farming methods actually fared substantially better than chemical fertilizers in terms of yield and protection against pests. Agro-ecological methods encourage natural seed breeding, including organic, and utilize an integrated soil-plant-animal cropping system. Many critics of GM seeds argue for a more grassroots approach, acknowledging the importance that lay expertise provides in African farming and allowing certain communities to preserve local seeds that have been enhanced through natural, localized selection processes to be pest resistant and drought resistant. This is supported by a 2011 UN press release that noted “scant attention has been paid to agro-ecological methods that have been shown to improve food production and farmers’ incomes, while at the same time protecting the soil, water, and climate.”2 This transition to eco-agriculture GeneWatch 29 has been noted in India and Malawi, with notable positive outcomes for approximately 100,000 small farmers in Malawi. Both these nations are instigating a national shift to agro-ecological practices that have since produced significantly higher crop yields without the risk of environmental effects. What’s more, 25-50%3 of the yearly harvest is wasted in Africa due to infrastructure constraints such as lack of storage, transportation to get the crop to market, and a lack of postharvest technologies; this is a hefty sum to ignore in nations stereotyped as having no food. The promotion of GM seeds in developing nations is not the most effective manner to address hunger and food security. Concern 3: Attempts to promote political agendas through GM seed introduction into previously untapped markets and communities If the traditional agricultural systems are capable of producing better results, why are organizations funding GM seeds? Some speculate it is a joint effort to usher private corporations into developing nations to manipulate the global agenda. This is accomplished through large international corporations taking advantage of weak national biosafety regulations and laws that are designed to protect citizens but instead protect biotech companies’ investments by enforcing laws regarding patent protection of GM seeds. Africa is full of poor farming communities that are more than willing to accept free GM seeds that corporations such as Monsanto, in connection with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, provide to NGOs and governments for distribution. These seemingly mutually beneficial relationships allow corporations to use public health platforms to infiltrate new markets and take hold of the local industry. Groups such as the African Center for Biosafety assert that the relations between large 30 GeneWatch corporations and private philanthropic foundations like the Gates Foundation, which donated $1.7 billion to kick-start the second “Green Revolution,” harbor too much power and foster hidden agendas, as represented by the Gates Foundation purchase of $27.6 million in shares of Monsanto stock over three months in 2010. In South Africa, the Department of Agriculture is purported to use “attractive offers to provide farming equipment, water piping and seeds”4 as a means to promote GMO’s to small farmers, often uneducated and illiterate with no understanding of patents and property rights. The current legal system in Africa is fragmented with different levels of patent law and IP rights between nations. It comes as no surprise that multi-national GMO corporations are promoting common legislation for African biosafety assessment and GM seed utilization, making it easier for companies to commercialize their biotech products. If a farmer’s GM seed cross-pollinates into a neighboring farm’s nonGM crop, the neighbor’s farm would then fall under patent violation and could therefore no longer store seeds for the following year. The entwined system of agriculture and patent law has resulted in numerous multi-million dollar lawsuits against poor farmers and countless farms being forced to form cooperatives with neighboring farms to offset the costs of GM seeds. The decrease in the number of workers and creation of a centralized food production system has detrimental effects on national sovereignty, food security, and individual rights to choose agricultural methods. These legal actions create a system of foreign exploitation of natural resources and a monopoly on global food production. International Property Rights (IPR) protect the laws that heavily favor the corporations, but some nations are refusing to adopt these IPRs and acknowledge the patent rights of GMO corporations on crops. Some nations have demonstrated the inequitable nature of this process and are pursuing legal action against these corporations. For instance, Argentina chose a national plan to subsidize Monsanto’s product Roundup Ready Soya but lacked the patent laws to enforce royalty payments to Monsanto while simultaneously prohibiting seed saving. This resulted in enormous GMO cross-pollination between fields, with patented strains found in over 95% of the market for soya, all of which would have to pay royalties and purchase seed yearly. The ramifications were massive unemployment and emergence of large monopolistic farms that engulfed the smaller bankrupted farms. In retaliation for not receiving their royalties, Monsanto has since blocked shipments of soybeans from Argentina to other countries. Western efforts to aid developing nations have at times been shown to cause more harm than good. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation maintains a narrow scope of solutions to broad public health issues, resulting in implanting westernized plans to aid developing nations without having localized knowledge of the situation. This “outsiders” approach contributes to the problem rather than the solution. Biotech expert Philip Bereano has noted, “Big donors are undermining huge numbers of local initiatives to increase food security and protect biodiversity when they exclude small-scale projects in favor of industrial ones that actually have consequences counter to such goals.”5 The Gates Foundation is known for their technologically sophisticated solutions, which are appealing to decision makers and donors looking to invest dollars in fast outcomes that look great on paper and provide clearly defined results, such as vaccines. Unfortunately, the reality is that the unsubstantiated impact projections and bar charts that sold the promise October-November 2011 of biotech to investors often dissipate quickly once solutions are implemented and shown to fail to meet expectations. Agricultural technologies cannot provide complete solutions to hunger and food sovereignty. Social, political and economic factors must first be addressed in order to ensure food access and appropriate development. A more proactive regulatory approach toward biotech solutions could help to buffer developing nations against the harmful impacts of the implementation of new biotechnologies. The failures of policy and decision makers to generate a buffer are illustrated globally where the utilization of GM seeds required higher crop prices at the market to offset the investment costs of expensive seeds and fertilizers. This generates difficulties with selling crops and contributes to issues of food waste. In fact, a significant challenge for farmers with GM produce is the lack of partnership with EU nations for the sale of GM products, leaving farmers with a surplus of crops without a market. These conditions are not orientated toward the goal of achieving food sovereignty and addressing hunger issues in Africa. Instead, they are the product of top-down interventions that accumulate profit for their shareholders. The International Institute for Environment and Development, a leading proponent of revised food sovereignty policies, has outlined principles to define food sovereignty as empowering citizens to define their own agricultural management system unrestricted by intellectual property rights and GM patents. Civil rights author Maya Angelou has a saying: “I did the best that I knew how to do. When I knew better, I did better.” Non-profits and foundations working to address global health issues are presented with the arduous task of creating infrastructure for healthy and sustainable development to enhance food security in nations where very little economic or political structure exists to address these needs. While many mistakes have been made due to the masquerading of GM seeds as the best solution to food security and hunger, now is the time to know better. Natalie DeGraaf is an intern at the Council for Responsible Genetics. She is pursuing a Masters in Global Public Health at NYU, a cross between Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and Steinhardt School. Consumers Call on FDA to Label GE Foods After being left in the dark about what they’re eating, consumers call for labeling of genetically modified foods. By Colin O’Neil Americans cherish their freedom of choice. If you want to choose food that doesn’t contain gluten, aspartame, high fructose corn syrup, transfats or MSG, you simply read the ingredients label. But one choice Americans are not free to make is whether their food contains genetically engineered ingredients. Unlike most other developed countries—including 15 European Union nations, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Russia and China—the U.S. has no laws requiring labeling of genetically engineered Volume 24 Number 6 foods. Yet polls have repeatedly shown that the overwhelming majority of Americans—over 90% in most polls— believe GE foods should be labeled. Citing this overwhelming support, last month the Center for Food Safety (CFS) filed a groundbreaking legal petition with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) demanding that the agency require the labeling of all food produced using genetic engineering. CFS prepared the legal action on behalf of the Just Label It campaign and a number of health, consumer, environmental and farming organizations, and food companies are also signatories to the petition. A Choice Deferred In 1992, the FDA issued a policy statement that GE foods were not “materially” different from non-GE foods and thus did not need to be labeled. The agency severely constricted what it called “material,” limiting it to GeneWatch 31 changes that could be tasted, smelled, or detected through the other human senses. Because GE foods cannot be “sensed” in this way, FDA declared them to be “substantially equivalent” to conventionally produced foods, and no labeling was required. FDA adopted this stance despite a lack of scientific studies and data to support their underlying assumption that genetically engineered foods were “substantially equivalent” to conventional foods. It was a political, not scientific, decision to apply 19th century logic to a 20st century food technology, and in the process left all consumers in the dark to hidden changes to their food. We as consumers no longer base our decisions solely on what we can see or taste or smell, so why should the FDA continue to do so? FDA Should Prevent Consumer Deception – Not Create It FDA’s authority to require labeling goes well beyond the agency’s outdated definition of “material.” Rather, the law authorizes FDA to require labeling for GE foods in order to prevent consumer deception. Because FDA allows these facts to go unlabeled, consumers believe they are purchasing something different than what they actually are. To be patentable, a genetically engineered food must be “new” and “novel.” Thus, a product or process that is patentable cannot be both “novel” for patent purposes yet “substantially equivalent” to existing technology in other contexts. Continuing to treat GE foods as novel for patenting purposes but traditional for labeling purposes is a clear error in judgment by the FDA and abuse of the public’s trust. Polls consistently show1 that more than 90 percent of Americans want GE foods to be labeled and consumers do not expect food to be genetically engineered absent labeling. FDA’s 32 GeneWatch continued failure to mandate labeling is an abdication of its duty to protect consumers from deception. Unlabeled, Untested and You’re Eating It Unlabeled GE foods are misleading not only because they contain unperceivable genetic and molecular changes to food, but also because they have unknown and undisclosed risks. FDA has never conducted a single safety assessment for GE foods and does not affirm their safety. There have been very few independent, peerreviewed, comprehensive studies of their long-term human health and environmental impacts, and the few that exist give cause for concern. In fact, scientists both within FDA and outside the agency agreed that there are profound differences between genetically engineered foods and those produced through traditional breeding practices. Yet, rather than requiring the necessary safety assessment, FDA explicitly places responsibility for determining the safety of GE foods and crops back in the hands of their makers the biotechnology companies, and uses what it calls a “voluntary consultation” process. Companies that develop a GE crop are encouraged, but not required, to share the conclusions (but not the raw data or methodology) of any studies they may have conducted on their GE crop. This system does not favor health, safety or transparency. A recent independent Canadian study found that a toxin from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which has been engineered into Bt corn, was present in the bloodstream of 93% of pregnant women, as well as in the fetal cord blood of 80% of the pregnant women.2 These findings cast grave doubt on the biotechnology industry’s assurances—accepted at face value by federal agencies, including FDA—that the genetically engineered October-November 2011 Bt toxin would be broken down by human digestive systems before entering the bloodstream. This study not only underscores the scientific uncertainty surrounding the health impacts of GE crops, but also casts doubt on the wisdom of federal agencies’ practice of relying excessively on crop developers’ own safety assessments rather than on independent studies. FDA’s Looming Decision on GE Salmon Labeling One issue related to GE food labeling currently sitting at the FDA is the pending approval of AquAdvantage transgenic salmon, the first GE animal intended for human consumption. The genetically engineered Atlantic salmon was developed by AquaBounty Technologies, which artificially combined growth hormone genes from an unrelated Pacific salmon, (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) with DNA from the anti-freeze genes of an eelpout (Zoarces americanus). This genetic modification causes the AquAdvantage salmon to produce growth-hormone year-round, creating a fish the company claims grows at twice the normal rate. This GE salmon poses a number of health, environmental, economic and animal welfare concerns and is only made worse by FDA’s acknowledgment that Endnotes Jay Joseph, p 4 1. Crow, T. J. (2008). The emperors of the schizophrenia polygene have no clothes. Psychological Medicine, 38, 1681-1685. 2. Merikangas, K. R., & Risch, N. (2003). Will the genomics revolution revolutionize psychiatry? American Journal of Psychiatry, 160, 625-635. 3. Joseph, J. (1998). The equal environment assumption of the classical twin method: A critical analysis. Journal of Mind and Behavior,19, 325-358; Joseph, J. (2002). Twin studies in psychiatry and psychology: Science or pseudoscience? Psychiatric Quarterly, 73, 71-82; Joseph, J. (2004). The gene illusion: Genetic research in psychiatry and psychology under the microscope. Volume 24 Number 6 it would likely not require labeling despite these concerns. Yet a careful look at this fish reveals that it is not the safe and healthy fish that its proponents would lead you to believe [See GE Salmon Nutrition Facts]. According to the company’s own data, its GE salmon contains less healthy fatty acids than other farmed salmon and far less healthy fatty acids than wild salmon. FDA claims that the omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid ratio in the AquAdvantage salmon is similar to the ratios found in scientific literature for farmed Atlantic salmon. In fact, the ratio for the AquAdvantage salmon is nearly 15% less than the recorded ratio for conventionally farmed Atlantic salmon and 65% less than wild salmon. GE salmon also contain levels of healthy vitamins and minerals inferior to the levels present in other farmed salmon. The company study provided to the FDA identified a number of vitamins and essential nutrients for which the levels present in the AquAdvantage salmon differed from non-GE salmon by more than 10%. The AquAdvantage salmon has lower levels of every essential amino acid tested and nearly 25% less folic acid and vitamin C. As a result of the genetic modification, this fish is fattier, less nutritious and at higher risk for physical deformities than other salmon. With regard to food allergies, FDA stated: “the technical flaws in this [AquaBounty’s allergy] study so limit its interpretation that we cannot rely on its results.” It’s no wonder a 2008 Consumers Union nationwide poll found that 95 percent of respondents said they thought food from genetically engineered animals should be labeled. 3 And while you’re not going to see this type of comparison on a nutrition label, absent mandatory labeling for GE foods, you will not be able to choose between a GE fish and regular farmed salmon. In the U.S., we pride ourselves on having choices and making informed decisions. The longer the U.S. clings to its antiquated policy on GE food labeling, the more its standing as a leader in scientific integrity will be compromised. It is long overdue that FDA acknowledges the myriad reasons GE foods should be labeled and rewrites its outdated policy, lest it continue to foster consumer deception. New York: Algora. 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Ibid. 4. “DNA Confidential” in, Nature Biotechnology Vol. 27, No. 9, September 2009, pp. 777. 5. On the effectiveness of DNA technologies for nationality testing, geneticist Mark Thomas asserts in Science that “mtDNA will never have the resolution to specify a country of origin. Many DNA ancestry testing companies have sprung up over the last 10 years, often based on mtDNA, but what they are selling is little better than genetic astrology” (Travis 2009). For the debate over recreational ancestry testing, see DA Bolnick et al., “The Science and Business of Genetic Ancestry Testing” in, Science Vol 318, October 2007, pp. 399-400 and J Wagner and MD Shriver, “Misinformation, Social Construction, and Genomic Ancestry Testing” in Science, 19 December 2007: http://www.sciencemag. org/content/318/5849/399.short. 6. Giles Tremlett, “Tracing Adam,” Guardian, 7 August 2003: http:// www.guardian.co.uk/science/2003/ aug/07/forensicscience. 7. John Travis, “Scientists Decry ‘Flawed’ and ‘Horrifying’ Nationality Tests,” Science Magazine, 29 September 2009: http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2009/09/border-agencys.html. 8. Giles Tremlett, “Tracing Adam,” Guardian, 7 August 2003: http:// 1. Black, R., Fava, F., Mattei, N., Robert, V., Seal, S., & Verdier, V. (2011). Case studies on the use of biotechnologies and on biosafety provisions in five African countries. Journal of biotechnology. doi:10.1016/j.jbiotec.2011.06.036 2. http://www.theecologist.org/News/ news_round_up/522538/agroecological_farming_methods_being_ignored_says_un_expert.html 3. Levitt, T. (2011). Worldwatch report attacks criminalising of seed saving and promotes agroecology - The Ecologist. Ecologist. Retrieved November 4, 2011, from http://www.theecologist.org/News/ news_round_up/727000/worldwatch_report_attacks_criminalising_of_seed_saving_and_promotes_agroecology.html 4. Matt Styslinger. (n.d.). Debating the Ethics of Biotechnology: An Interview with Philip Bereano . World Watch Institute. Retrieved November 9, 2011, from http:// www.worldwatch.org/node/6522 5. http://www.enn.com/ top_stories/article/37741 Colin O’Neil, p. 31 1 http://gefoodlabels.org/gmo%20 labeling/polls-on-gmo-labeling/ 2 See Aris A., Leblanc S., “Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods in Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada,” (Feb. 18, 2011) available at http://www. sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/ S0890623811000566 (last visited May 25, 2011). In approving Bt corn, FDA had previously relied on the industry’s assurances that the Bt toxin would be broken down during digestion. 3 http://www.greenerchoices. org/foodpoll2008/ GeneWatch 35 Council for Responsible Genetics 5 Upland Road, Suite 3 Cambridge, MA 02140 GENEWATCH IS FREE ON THE WEB - BUT YOU CAN STILL SUBSCRIBE TO RECEIVE PRINT ISSUES. 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