Born That Way?

Posted by Sappho on February 9th, 2013 filed in DNA, Science

There is a gene, Rs4680, that SNPedia identifies as a “warrior/worrier” gene ( “Val158 alleles may be associated with an advantage in the processing of aversive stimuli (warrior strategy), while Met158 alleles may be associated with an advantage in memory and attention tasks (worrier strategy).”

“Now,” I ask my mother, “Which of these do you think I should have? I should have the worrier gene, right?”

I am the shy child. I am the bookworm. I am the sailor who lets the sail luff enough to keep the boat stable, when racing in a high wind, rather than letting the boat heel till it’s practically taking in water. I am the teenager who did every bit of her classroom reading in high school, and the woman who started saving for retirement literally from her first full time job. I am the woman who, all her life, has been convinced that my greatest temptation is cowardice. And I am the peaceful, unwarlike Quaker.

“But what about all of your college activism?” says my mother, “What about the time you went off by yourself to visit that commune? What about the time you knocked on the door of the Moonies, and the time you went by yourself, in high school, to see your friend Lily in Washington, DC? I think you’d have the warrior gene.”

I am the little girl who hit back as hard as she could, every time a bully hit her on the playground. I am the girl who insisted that she belonged in the metal working class, when no girls were allowed to apply, and showed up for the metal working class rather than the cooking class she had been assigned to (but I am also the girl who, in the end, gave in and took the cooking class). I am the sometimes contentious Quaker activist. I am the woman who, at one demonstration, jumped into a fountain to talk some people out of burning a flag, and later, while still trying to talk them out of the flag burning, linked arms to protect them should they go ahead with it. I am the college student who drove a stick shift across the country, in three days, with a woman she’d never met as a co-driver, and only a learner’s permit. I am the woman who saved money from her first job to travel as soon as she could to Kenya, the woman who went out in a small rowboat in Hurricane Hugo, and the woman who sent her husband into a war zone for three months and joined him for the last three weeks.

In fact, I am Val/Val. For this gene, I have the warrior version.

I’m not sure what the Met/Met version of Lynn would have been like. Would she have stayed close to home for college, hesitant to travel 3000 miles away? Or would any Lynn raised in my environment, regardless of her genes, have found that 3000 mile trip normal? I’ve met people since my college days who needed to stay close to home for college, but the thought never occurred to me or anyone in my family.
I’ve been thinking lately about genes and environment, and their relative influence on our mental abilities and personality traits. And so now I’m pulling my thoughts together, partly as a way of gathering what I know, but also as a way of exploring what I expect, what my intuitions are.

I am going to be blogging a series of posts in which I look at the interaction between nature and nurture, as applied to different topics, and also explore my own recent experience looking at my DNA. This series is going to be crossposted between my blog and Alexandria. On some points, I’ll be particularly interested in Hector’s view, since, though he and I are likely to have very different perspectives at the point in this series when I get to nature, nurture, and gender issues, he does have both a background in biology and share with me the experience of reading Razib Khan (and reaction to Razib Khan, for better or worse, is part of the inspiration for the series). So Hector is encouraged to look at the Alexandria version of these posts and chime in there as he sees fit.

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