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ichard Dawkins says there is no such thing as the "gay gene." Instead, the evolutionary biologist describes it as "the gay gene, given that.” According to Dawkins, genes just aren’t all that deterministic. In other words, a gene's function largely depends on its environmental conditioning. So, it would seem that genetic causation can't explain variations in sexuality after all, which would make being “born this way” only half right. Activists who used the gay gene as ammunition against religious bigotry might feel short-changed, but could the inability of science to prove the case either way actually be a blessing in disguise? Between 2003 and 2008, a psychiatric geneticist by the name of Alan Sanders looked at the genetic composition of more than 700 sets of homosexual brothers, in the hopes of using genes to understand sexual orientation. He built his study on the work of Dean Hamer—a research scientist who studied 33 pairs of gay brothers in 1993. While Hamer identified Xq28 as the genetic marker for homosexuality, it was later determined that conclusive results would require a much larger sample size. A decade and a half later, there is still no definitive link between genetic makeup and sexual orientation. Bummer? Maybe not. As it turns out, the world may be better off without one. The future of science seems promising. It's been more than ten years since we hacked the human genome. Since then, we’ve found useful links to personality, hereditary diseases and other traits. Technology is on a roll. Civil rights, not so much. In 2008, following a decade-long debate, Congress finally passed the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act (GINA). In addition to discouraging employment discrimination, the bill banned health insurers from setting premiums or denying coverage based on the results of genetic tests (some restrictions and loopholes apply).

While GINA raises awareness and offers protections, the privacy issue remains contentious. Texas Representative Ron Paul (the bill’s lone dissenter) questioned the government's ability to protect individual privacy in the face of increased regulation and bureaucracy. Who can say what will happen if your genetic information falls into the wrong hands? In the game of ethics, jumping the gun never makes up for lost time. But in the race to find the gay gene, science forgot to think about the implications. It’s not unreasonable to imagine legions of Bible thumpers on a new age crusade to "save" homosexuals, summoning ghosts of eugenics past as they call for genetic transparency in schools, churches and government chambers. Biological predisposition is hardly reason to rule out discrimination. A recap of gender and race relations over the last decade is enough to see where the nation stands in terms of diversity. Nationalism, border police, immigration reform—in post-9/11 America, “xenophobe” is the new “patriot,” further illustrating an ethos constantly at war with itself. It may not be long before renewed Republican interest in science shape-shifts into a nationalist agenda meant to appease white supremacists wanting to "take back their country." But in the end, the real threat to genetic freedom may not come from overzealous church congregations or anti-immigrant right-wingers. Left to the wrong devices, science is susceptible to tyranny, much like everything else. Even the Inquisition had a methodology. It wasn’t long ago that eugenics sought to redefine Manifest Destiny in the West. But following World War II eugenics had lost its appeal, mostly because of the Nazis. By mid-century, the American movement had all but disappeared, but not before the Chinese adopted it as a means of reconciling the nation’s traditional values with the modern world. Thirty years later, rising anxiety over population growth (we just hit seven billion) is enough to reexamine medical aid, food distribution and sex education. But this may not be enough to accommodate what experts say will be a population of nine billion come the year 2050. Given the origin of China's controversial one-child policy, it's easy to imagine eugenics creeping back into the American mainstream undetected—but how? As science courts spirituality and religion courts reason, it's important to place ethics above all else, lest we summon greater demons on our own quest for reconciliation. Society, forever cyclical, pours dreams and fears back and forth through an hourglass of shifting infinity, all the while reconstituting ideology—sometimes by demagogic means, other times pragmatically. For now, then, it seems best to quell the search for the gay gene, if only for reasons an overpopulated world can fully understand.

Christopher de la Torre writes about science and technology. Follow him on Twitter @urbanmolecule

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Connextions Magazine - Issue 8 DC  

Travel highlights in our nation's capital, Washington DC. Click to www.connextionsmagazine.com to subscribe or purchase the print edition.

Connextions Magazine - Issue 8 DC  

Travel highlights in our nation's capital, Washington DC. Click to www.connextionsmagazine.com to subscribe or purchase the print edition.