like it or not, our GENES rule our lives

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Nobody is predestined to be criminal or violent, but given a certain genetic predisposition, the risk of violence can increase

Some believe that biology plays a role in every conceivable human behaviour. They say genes decide the way we behave. It has also been said some races are more genetically predisposed to certain characteristics as well as illnesses. If race is ‘more than skin deep’, it is a matter of worry for many. We want to believe that we are all fundamentally equal, but are we? Some say ‘snippets of DNA’ can lead to high IQ. Some see in it the danger of abusing biology.

There are many who don’t like to see the egalitarian theory that claims that all races are equal, to fall flat. They say genes are being given more than necesary importance to explain things. They say it is social, economic and educational differences that are more influencial than the genes.

“People just somehow fixate on genetics, even if the influence is very small.” Some just don’t want the use of science to validate behaviour, such as violence and prejudice. As someone said, “I don’t want the children in my family to be born thinking they are less than someone else based on their DNA.” There are also some others who think society, would need to consider how individuals can be given educational and occupational opportunities that work best for their unique talents and limitations. It is better to recognise that inborn differences exist, but as someone suggested , “innate differences should be accepted but, at some level, ignored”. They say evolution may have prepared our minds to be violent and prejudiced, but our environment influences how we act on them.

We are more than willing to acept that genes can be helpful in identifying the risks of medical disorders, but when the scientists try to link inherited traits to criminal behaviour they are told these are ‘unjustified halo’. Some scientists, for example, want to study violence from a public health perspective. They hope to diagnose the likelihood of violence that way and learn how one might intervene.

Often the scientists are blamed for fuelling the gene-behaviour confusion. In their defence the scientists say it is out of their curiosity they have chosen their field of research. “They did not wake up one day having been mugged and say, ‘Let’s see if there is a gene responsible for crime’.” Scien-tists are also responsible citizens. They, like many others want to understand human behaviour; “though they may be naive about the implications of their research and the political agendas it might further.”

Researchers say genes influence serotonin metabolism and behaviour. This lead researchers to hunt genes that could be associated with the signs of gene defects or genetic variants associated with abnormal serotonin metabolism. There are also scientists who say that serotonin affects many behaviours, not just aggression.

“Nevertheless, some mental health specialists have already raised the possibility that doctors might one day use genetic markers to screen patients with behavioural disorders and treat serotonin abnormalities with drugs,” writes Juan Williams. Researchers search for genetic markers asociated with criminal conduct is not an easy science. Its implications are far beyond pure science and its outcome may displease many.

When there is no solution, an ‘integrationist’ approach provides the the best solution. Perhaps the solution lies in the interaction between the environment and genetic susceptibility. According to this interactive theory, nobody is predestined to be criminal or violent. “But given a certain environment and a certain genetic predisposition, then the risk of violence can increase.” And as Gyanendra Pandey writes (in a different context), “Prejudice rules, in ‘visible’ and ‘invisible’ forms”. Genes perhaps are the “invisible” rulers.

(The writer is a biotechnologist and ED, Birla Institute of Scientific Research, Jaipur)

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