Friday, March 4, 2011

The Racial Controversy of a Violent Gene

Journalism, like any art form, has genres. There is a popular celebrity-fall-from-grace genre. There is the up-and-coming cable-television-political-commentator-zings-opposing-network-political-commentator genre. One particularly controversial genre is the scientists-discover-the-fill-in-the-blank-gene genre, with usually superficial and forgettable entries. However, I would submit that there is at least one gene for something, and it concerns one of society’s ugliest controversies, the stereotype of the black male thug.

I am referring to a gene called monoamine oxidase A, or MAOA. This gene produces an enzyme that breaks down the neurotransmitters that activate many of the brain’s circuits. Back in the 1990’s, scientists discovered a mutation of MAOA that completely turns it off. The result is called Brunner syndrome, which only 14 related men have been known to have (plus animal models). What makes this extremely rare mutation so important is that it proves that MAOA really is a violent delinquency gene. A man with Brunner syndrome is what expert psychiatrists refer to as “a bad guy.” Five of these men were arsonists. Some of the men were rapists or attempted killers. Inexplicably, four men with the mutation somehow escaped having the syndrome, but for men with the mutation, those are not good odds. Nevertheless, out of the approximately three-and-a-half-billion men in the world, 14 really are not that many. Trust me, your neighbor—the one with the motorcycle—is probably not one of them. In conclusion, out of sight, out of mind.

Then came the 2000’s. The MAOA gene has a portion with repeated segments of DNA. This section of the gene is called a promoter because having more repeats increases the amount of enzyme that the gene produces (with a rare, debatable exception). After a 2002 study found that having three repeats together with having suffered child abuse is somewhat associated with violent tendencies, a flood of follow-up research ensued, and MAOA was relabeled “the warrior gene.” This version of the gene and one with four repeats are the most common versions, or alleles. These studies always had a few people with neither the 3-repeat nor the 4-repeat allele. A small number only had 2-repeats. The scientists decided that having 2-repeats in the promoter is sort of like having 3-repeats, so they invented the term “MAOA-L.” (“L” stands for low. Pretty clever, huh?) However, a pair of studies in 2008 found that the 2-repeat allele is associated with twice the rate of violence without child abuse coming into the equation. This allele is less powerful than Brunner syndrome but far more common.

Two small studies gave hints that the especially dangerous 2-repeat allele might be more common among African Americans. One study wrote that 6% of their non-white (but probably mostly African-American) male subjects had this allele. The other had 5 of 37 (14%) African-American men possessing “rare MAOA alleles.” Those percentages are remarkable given that studies of white men have suggested that 1% or fewer have this gene.

If a single gene could offer some explanation as to why African-Americans commit roughly five times as many violent crimes per capita as whites, then wouldn’t studying it potentially save countless lives and deserve a Nobel Prize? After all, even a case of Brunner syndrome was effectively treated for a period with an antipsychotic. Well, at long last, Reti et al determined that 0.5% of white MAOA genes and 4.7% of African-American MAOA genes are this 2-repeat allele, almost a ten-fold difference.

Calculating Violence

Hopefully, for the sake of improved diagnosis and treatment, a small number of genes like MAOA greatly influence societal problems like violent delinquency. However, some studies suggest that the genetics of behavior is spread diffusely among many genes. Science must also examine the complex web of gene-environment, gene-hormone, and gene-gene interactions. As the price of decoding genomes declines, it will become easier to develop software that analyzes standardized behavioral and developmental metrics and multiple gene elements for sundry associations.

Consider the study Beaver et al from about one year ago. This was a study of African-American men and five violence genes that reached the shocking conclusion that a crude genetic index of these genes predicted adult violent delinquency better than a detailed measure of the quality of the men’s childhood relationship with their respective mothers. This finding is all the more impressive given how unimpressive the gene index was. Each allele was assigned a point. A 2-repeat allele of MAOA was worth the same as a 3-repeat allele of MAOA and the same as an allele of another gene that had limited evidence of impacting violent behavior. Also, MAOA is on the X chromosome, meaning that these men only had one copy, unlike the other genes, which come in pairs. So, apparently having a 2-repeat allele was actually worth only half as much as each pair of the other genes. This study could be improved upon by follow up research that weights the genes differently using a computer program that could compare multitudinous reiterations to determine the optimum weights.

The Case for Maturity in Ethics

After following research on the genetics of violence for years now, I am convinced that the various alleles of MAOA affect violent behavior in white men and black men. Thus, the differing frequencies of these alleles might contribute to the differing rates of violent crime. I am sensitive to the fact that this line of research could reinforce unfair judgments that all black men are dangerous, but the 2-repeat allele of MAOA illustrates that a gene might contribute to a racial disparity in violent behavior even though most black men do not have said allele. If it is an important violence gene, then maybe targeted treatments can be created that will be more likely to help African-American men and bring American society closer to equality. In other words, medical and scientific ethics should be informed by both the improved standards of moral responsibility since the end of the eugenics era and a mature, realistic appreciation of the coming genetics era.


The Cold Equations said...

If MAOA is really the key, it should be amenable to therapy. I don't think it would be that hard to come up with some drug that either degrades MAOA's targets or reduces their effects (maybe even currently available treatments like labetalol or carvedilol would help).

Imagine giving them depot shots or implants of this hypothetical drug, if this theory is right. Streets become safe again.

nooffensebut said...

Labetalol does not really cross the blood-brain barrier. Risperidone is the antipsychotic that successfully treated a man with Brunner syndrome, until the dosage went too high. After that, the symptom improvements never quite returned. Hormones interact with MAOA. Glucocorticoids are partial agonists that might help but with unfortunate side effects. The experimental drugs, Fenclonine, Ketanserin, and tetrabenazine, improved the aggressive behavior of mice that were given Brunner syndrome.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't be surprised if the frequency of the 2-repeat allele reached 15% in certain neighborhoods i.e. housing projects like Cabrini Green. Just as the American frontier attracted all the psychopaths and sociopaths of Anglo society, the housing projects attract and retain the most violent members of the black community.

Luke Lea said...

Did they control for IQ? In The Bell Curve, Murray and Hernstein argue (I seem to recall) that these differences disappear once you take into account differences in IQ.

Trew said...

I'm sure you and the more insightful readers picked up on the fact that the FBI crime stats that you link to in the above post (here do not break out Hispanics. They are, of course, lumped in with Whites, greatly skewing the White crime rate upward. Perhaps, what, doubling it?

Funny, in nearly every government study or report race & ethnicity are always broken out as White, black, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian. But here, not so. Wonder why???

Anonymous said...

"If MAOA is really the key, it should be amenable to therapy."

Better if it was bred out which would be easily achieved by applying the rule of law in those neighborhoods to the same extent it is in white neighborhoods.

That's all it needs.

If these individuals were taken out of society in their true proportions and not PC proportions then normal society has a chance or reasserting itself. Once normal society has taken root those kind of behaviors stop being adaptive.

"the housing projects attract and retain the most violent members of the black community."

No they breed them. Where men like this can get away with this behavior then they have more kids.

gabriel tyner said...

This violent gene only further reiterates our need to address the problem with kids and violence. They have this need to kill, but we only want to medicate them? What about given them a positive outlet for the violence? LIke a Dojo or Boxing Gym? I recently interviewed an ex-gang member of the Latin Kings who believes that this is a war between good and evil and we have to take sides. Kids need to know that we are ALL born to sin and they need some kind of spiritual guidance, after school programs, and of course positive role models in their life... WE have a problem that needs to be addressed now. Here is link to my blog about gangs in schools

Anonymous said...

Of greater interest would be the frequency of this allele repeat among Continental Africans; only then can we know for sure that we're not dealing with another effect of 400 years of slavery; the "Sins of the fathers." as they say. Truth be told there were lots of aggressive encounters between Male European Slave Master and female African slave.

SickofAllOfIt said...

For the love of God -- STOP trying
to be so "politically correct" in
your articles by using terms like
"African-American" inaccurately

Just because some people are a
bunch of BLACKS does NOT mean
they were also "African-Americans".

Charlize Theron (a White actress)
is a TRUE African-American.

Those other are just a bunch of
BLACK Americans (they are NOT
actual African-Americans).

Lots of White immigrants who
have fled African nations to
the U.S. for safety are actual
African-Americans -- and.
you should NOT insult their
heritage by comparing these.
BLACK imprisoned ground-apes
to any of them by being.
"politically-correct" and misusing
the term of African-American.

SickofAllOfIt said...

Every news story on those “people”
should use the following VOICE OVER …
"""And here are some scenes from our next terrifying
as we cautiously observe the impact of the unprovoked and
mind-boggling violent social-behavior as found displayed
among THE TYPICAL HERD-PACK when it is composed OF THE
“Non-Incarcerated-Ghetto-Ground-Ape” (aka. the ‘NIGGA’)."""
It should be noted that a baby gazelle surrounded by
a pride of lions is, on certain occasions, safer than
an actual human-being in the presence of THE TYPICAL
“Non-Incarcerated Ghetto-Ground-Ape” (the ‘NIGGA’).
May God help humanity and let this entire
species get forcibly sterilized …
throughout the whole world!!!"

Anonymous said...

It might enlighten you to research white on white violence throughout the world. What gene triggers that? Lmao!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I´m so interested in genetics. Reading the comments here I wonder how many people (white, according to their self-definition) have this MAOA gene agressive version. It seems that is really greater than 1%, same as when we watch news on TV and almost all the big slaughters at schools, marathons and similar are caused by white people, isn´t it true? I hope that they do not belong to the scientific community, in the opposite we´ll be in big trouble because it sounds like very stupid and dangerous racist argument.

Anonymous said...

The gang-ruled underclass environment breeds violent genes.

I think the ratio may have 2:1 or 3:1 (or whatever) in the 1940s and has increased since.

Anonymous said...

This article is right. If this gene isn't studied soon, I may shove puppies in ovens. Because I'm Black. Who knows when a MAOA Moment will strike?

Anonymous said...

I find it humorous that some people are going to try to user this as an actual argument. Meanwhile downplay the fact that white people are responsible for the worst and most violent atrocities in history. Not just in America. If they don't have this "violent gene" then no one does.

Anonymous said...

this article is very strange, it ignores the two biggest , violent encounters amoung humans in the last 100 years ww1 AND ww2, conducted exclusively by and for white people; does this indicate a violent gene?????

Katie Rose said...

Hi there,
I am writing my EPQ on the subject of MAOA as I find it very interesting. I was wondering if you could tell me where you got the table of the clinical profiles of patients from and what study it is from? (A link would be lovely!) Also, the part about the repeats is interesting; could you also include the link where you got this information too? It would be very beneficial to me if you could help me out, please could yopu contact me on Thank you

nooffensebut said...

The table in that post was taken from "Neuropsychiatric and biological characteristics of X-linked MAO-A deficiency syndrome. A single case intervention study" by S. Tuinier et al in New Trends in Experimental and Clinical Psychiatry Vol XI no 4/95, 1995, p 105-106.

See email.

Anonymous said...

Muslims enslaved Blacks first. Africans sold their own people to them and the British for booze and guns.

Anonymous said...

Not all big slaughters are perpetrated by Whites!The Columbia Mall shooter, Darrion A. was a young black male,(the press covering this never even gave his description although he was caught on security cameras, only later did they release his photo without comment about him being young, black,+ male,) Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton, were strangely silent about comforting my commuunity's, ongoing grief,loss,and war-time like martial law lockdown,complete with Nat'l Gaurd military helicopter, and heavy equipment,deployment,and the continued weird,overly obvious "undercover"gov't goon presence, after the people were trying to recover from the deaths,injuries,including economic,PTSD, and lesser hassles Darrion, willfully and pre metitately left in his wake.His violence had worked destruction on an entire town. If Obama had a son, he would look like Darrion! ..whose mom let him do what he wanted. His reprobate (probably now, gratefully )absent dad, was never even referred to,(let alone sought,pictured or interviewed by the press after spawning the curse,that walked Columbia),as factor in his reprobation. They should have found his pappa's azz, and turned him over to the families, of his son's victims,and of those hurt, and traumatized by that sub-human piece of sh&t,product of his parental neglect,and turned the crowd loose,on Daddy, to dismantle him,and made him pay his debt to society, for releasing a murderous ,villain, bastard."Oh, only white people do violent public slaughter". Bullshit!An African-American male's rampage held turned a packed,suburban mall on Sat..Jan.26,2014, ( research it on YouTube),into a massacre destination, held hostage The press was oh so careful,not to mention,the black on white victims including a 21 yr. old mom, Brianna, who left behind a toddler son,who so young he most likely remember his mother, while growing up. And Tyler a young man who, got himself together, to go forth to help others and his community. I worked there that day, I was on a friendly basis with, Brianna, and knew Tyler. This is o e of the worst public incidences of black on white crime. Black men need help if they have this genetic problem.

Anonymous said...

These comments are absolutely funny. We became lazy, since we are no longer slaves that do everything for the very people who call us lazy. I understand though. If my genes were recessive I'd want to eliminate the scientifically dominant one as well. I mean who wants to become extinct. Keep them as poor as possible and do not allow them to do or say any truth.... They are apes!!! I know that the pig and people without melanin cannot even stand outside in nature without being burned half to death. We can't let these black people think they are smart or are creators. Let's create an IQ test. Dang, most of the people scoring high are black. Darn that didn't work either. I know, let the police kill them all then we don't have to worry about sending them back to Africa. They aren't needed cause we can't enslave them. Oh wait, yes we can. Let's only teach that they were slaves, didn't create anything, have no history other than being poor and ensure that every part of our media portray that we are not the smallest our of people on the entire planet. We have killed enough of them that we can now buy melanin pills so that we can black without being black. I know we took their culture and put it in our museums... Yes, its because we didn't have any. We've wanted to be them since the beginning of time and no matter what we do, they are still here. We have to act fast or they will all learn the truth.

Unknown said...

You're a black Muslim. I know the rhetoric.

Unknown said...

YOU , my friend, are the real psycho. Nazis suggested these sorts of things.

Anonymous said...

cut that shit out of the strand with CRISPR/Cas9

direita said...

delusions of persecution is a common symptom among Jews, not among whites

Anonymous said...

Another gene to explore for differences in groups, ADRA2C.