Behavioral Genetics in the Postgenomic Era (1 Viewer)

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Matt Nuenke's review of "Behavioral Genetics in the Postgenomic Era,"
published by the American Psychological Association, 2003.

Editors: Plomin, Defries, Graig & McGuffin.

Note: within quoted text, I have [added comments within square brackets].

Though highly theoretical, this massive new book looks at where behavioral genetics is today and what needs to be done in the future to find the genes that make us tick. Pinker, in his book The Blank Slate (see my review of his book), claims that behavioral genetics is of no interest to science - a statement so absurd one has to wonder how he could make such a claim amongst like-minded scientists. Evolutionary psychology deals with the genetic similarities that all humans have that determine behavior, while behavioral genetics looks for the differences between people. Now that the human genome is being deciphered, behavioral geneticists are anxious to find the specific genes responsible for what we can observe are differences between people: differences in diseases and how individuals respond to treatment, differences in the causes for mental disorders, differences in personality traits, and differences in intelligence - and any other differences that we wish to look for.

My intention is not to review everything contained in the book by the numerous contributing authors, but to highlight those passages that support the current understanding that genes count, and they account for a lot. The old sciences was terribly flawed by assuming a few genes were responsible for a person's character or intelligence. It now appears that any individual gene can impact a particular disease or behavioral trait at levels as little as 1%, with numerous genes contributing to and interacting with multiple human traits and diseases. Nevertheless, the search for the responsible genes can still be determined using the new methods described in this book.

Several years ago, when the Human Genome Project was in its infancy, there was a lot of concern that employers and insurers would use a person's genetic information to discriminate against them. One thing that stands out in the book is just how important it is to know each person's genome in order to cure diseases. The model used now is one size fits all. New medicines and procedures are assumed to affect everyone equally, but we know of course that this is a crude but necessary assumption based on our knowledge. However, once we know how genes influence how a person responds to different medical conditions and medical interventions, we will have made a quantum leap in health care, not to mention other benefits such as educational programs that are targeted towards an individual's genetic differences from the norm.

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