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Archive for June, 2021|Monthly archive page

I am less likely to support environmental laws – not

In Uncategorized on June 23, 2021 at 12:30 pm

I while ago, I uploaded my 23andMe data to Genomelink. Partly because 23andMe stopped reporting traits, partly because I was curious and partly because I just finished writing up my genetic counseling master thesis where consumer genetics was a central topic.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to practice much genetic counseling and 23andme still doesn’t have traits, – so I continued following my Genomelink-results as a way to keep me on my toes. The reports they make are questionable at best and horrifically misleading at worst. No better way to sustain interest than reading things that upset you – … right ?

The latest example is my genetic result-report on “Views on Environmentalism”. Based on two SNPs (rs1397924 and rs4902960), according to Genomelink, I am “less likely to support environmental laws by the government, and that regulations for the environment are needed.”.

So, this was a report that immediately fell squarely into the “misleading” category even before I started fact checking, – hence sorted into a box that already contained “Dog allergy” (which they claim I don’t have while I do), “Vulnerability to Computer Frustration” (which they claim I don’t have, but everybody does, – especially me) and “Left-Handedness” (which they got wrong).

The good thing though, – and the reason I keep looking into these results, is that it got me looking into behavioral genetics. A cool, but also scary field of research. There is a genetic component to all behaviors studied to date and the nature/nurture interaction is particularly fascinating when it comes to genetics in the social sciences.

A really good intro into one of those interaction mechanisms is the story of the MAOA-gene. Again misleading, this gene has been called the “warrior gene”, because one finds a link between MAOA-variants and aggression. However there is strong evidence to support that these agression effects will not manifest unless there’s a environmental trigger (like being abused or paid money to be cruel):

“These findings suggest that some behavioral traits are co-dependent on (1) the possession of genetic risk and (2) exposure to environmental stressors in order for them to manifest.”

Tanksley PT, Motz RT, Kail RM, Barnes JC, Liu H. The Genome-Wide Study of Human Social Behavior and Its Application in Sociology. Front Sociol. 2019;4:53. Published 2019 Jun 26. doi:10.3389/fsoc.2019.00053

So, when it comes to your predisposition to a certain behavior, your genetic risk may never be exposed, or conversely your lack of risk may never benefit you, unless you experience that external trigger.

The nicest possible way then to interpret this clearly wrong conclusion from my Genomelink report, is that I just haven’t experienced that environmental trigger to turn me into a climate-denialist.

Turns out however, that the paper cited for the finding, by Genomelink themselves, directly warns about making conclusions such as those made. Here it is:

“In summary, our molecular-genetic–based estimates of heritability partially corroborate the twin-based estimates and suggest that molecular genetic data could, in principle, be predictive of preferences. Our other results, however, suggest that excitement about the practical usefulness of molecular genetic data in social science research needs to be tempered by an appreciation that much of the heritable variation is likely explained by a large number of markers, each with a small effect in terms of variance explained. As a consequence, for economic and political preferences, much larger samples than currently used will be required to robustly identify individual SNP associations or to generate sizeable predictive power from many SNPs considered jointly.”

Benjamin DJ, Cesarini D, van der Loos MJ, et al. The genetic architecture of economic and political preferences. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012;109(21):8026-8031. doi:10.1073/pnas.1120666109

No sizeable predictive power. Sorry Genomelink: no sigar, not even close.

I’ll keep supporting that “regulations for the environment are needed” then.