DNA Day experts answer your questions about genetics and behaviour

Above: Image © takahashi_kei, iStockphoto.com

Does dna play a role in whether or not an individual has musical talent?

Good question - there is some evidence that it is. A study in Finland of people with musicians in the family showed that simple things, like discerning pitch differences, seemed to have some genetic basis ... but that's only a minor part! remember the old adage that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert. What if you don't do that? No amount of musical genes will help.

- Answer provided by Jay Ingram

Are ADD or ADHD genetic?

As a follow-up on nature vs. nurture and relating to ADD/ADHD, it's worth noting that amongst animals, humans probably have the least "hard-wired" brain. That's why childhood lasts so much longer than for other animals...there is a lot of room to mold our brains based on our environmental input. There are some genetic variants that may predispose to mental issues, but I think that surprisingly little is set in stone from the day you are born.

- Answer provided by Dr. Paul Gordon

Can we use genetics to predict the behaviour of an individual?

That's a very interesting question. I am not an expert in the area of behavioural genomics but I know there are mouse models where aggressive behaviour has been associated with genetics. Dr. Elizabeth Simpson from UBC has done work in this area http://www.cmmt.ubc.ca/research/investigators/simpson/lab

- Answer provided by Dr. David Charest

Is hyperactiveness related to genetic susceptibility? Often this disease is seen among males only. Are females less susceptible to hyperactivity?

Some hyper-activity can be in part due to genetics, as there is actually a formal disease called ADHD or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. This is a disease known to be a "problem with inattentiveness, over-activity, impulsivity, or a combination" (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002518/). A lot of research has gone into the causes of this disease, and in some of the results it was found that indeed some genetics does interplay into susceptibility to ADHD (when the amount of hyper-activity is enough to impair the normal function of individuals). A particular research has found that rather than one gene, a combination of several genes interplay to increase susceptibility to ADHD. For more information about this research please visit www.medscape.com/viewarticle/546469_3. Also to answer your question about the gender differences, research has also found that males do indeed tend to display more hyperactivity than females, as "approximately 10% of all males and 4% of females have been diagnosed with ADHD" (www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type...mp;id=13850&cn=3). And again for more information that had been provided by this research, please visit the above website for more details on the gender discrepancies for hyperactivity and the onset of ADHD.

- Answer provided by Harman Sawhney

Animal instincts are said to be imprinted in their genes. Are human instincts encoded in our genes?

We certainly have instinctual behaviours, like body language. The current belief is that much of our modern human behaviour was sculpted by evolution throughout our species' history and of course much earlier as well.

- Answer provided by Jay Ingram

Do our genes influence whom we vote for or whether we vote? What is this idea of genopolitics?

I believe I recently saw some headline suggesting that there was a study that showed some relation between genetic profile and voting behavior. But, more broadly speaking, it is extremely difficult to demonstrate that genetic make-up will explain or even determine behavior. Actions such as voting are affected by a lot of other social determinants,like levels of education for example. So, I would think of genopolitics as a way of trying to attract attention to politics by giving it a scientific spin.

- Answer provided by Karine Morin

Do you think it's possible for procrastination to be linked to genes?

Behavioural genetics is complicated, but I am sure there are genotypes linked to procrastination. In fact, I think 23andme is probably trying to determine this right now! well perhaps not right now, since the FDA has given them a cease and desist ruling so that they stop offering genetic testing.

- Answer provided by Dr. Dennis McCormac

Is criminal behaviour encoded in some people's DNA? Does a gene exist that leads to excessive violence, perhaps known as the "killer" gene?

There is some evidence that some people might be more prone to violence, or at least, if you survey populations of people who have committed aggressive acts, there are some gene combinations that they share more than others. But the most important thing is this ... Even if you had such genes that is definitely NOT a guarantee that you will act that way. In fact there's probably stronger evidence that your environment - especially when you are young - is a stronger predictor.

- Answer provided by Jay Ingram

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