Genes not associated with being gay, confirms study

Happy newlywed gay couple standing outdoors

Happy newlywed gay couple standing outdoors

In the years since, the concept of a "gay gene" has been a source of debate within both the scientific community and the general public, inspiring ever-larger follow-up studies over the years.

Rather, their findings paint a diverse and complex picture of human sexuality, and the genetic factors that influence it.

Eric Vilain, director of the Center for Genetic Medicine Research at Children's National Health System, told The Post that the study's findings should put an end to the overly simplistic notion that homosexuality is strictly genetic. This can include the people you became friends with, where you grew up, and things that may have happened in the womb. These included DNA data and responses to questionnaires from participants in the UK (as part of the UK Biobank study) and the United States (as part of data collected from customers of the commercial ancestry firm 23andMe who consented to answering research questions about sexuality).

A new study investigating the link between DNA and sexual orientation has revealed some intriguing results about the existence of a so-called "gay gene".

"Across human societies and in both sexes, some 2% to 10% of individuals report engaging in sex with same-sex partners, either exclusively or in addition to sex with opposite-sex partners", wrote the study authors. The study was published Thursday in Science. But when combined, these variants account for less than 1% of a person's attraction to their sex. Many scientists believe that social, cultural, family and other biological factors are also involved, while some religious groups and skeptics consider it a choice or behavior that can be changed.

"It underscores that there is an element of biology, and it underscores that there is an element of the environment and it underscores that [sexual diversity] is a natural part of our species", Neale says. "We know there are non-genetic influences as well, but we don't understand these well, and our study does not say anything about them". The researchers then used these responses to look for variations in the genome that might be associated with same-sex sexual behavior.

The authors and their respective institutions took great pains to make sure their study would be carried out responsibly. The variant also sits in the genome near a gene involved in sexual development.

Applicants were also questioned if they had same-sex partners or opposite-sex partners. And while someone may have had sex with someone of the same sex, that doesn't necessarily mean they identify as gay or lesbian, so the authors refrained from using those sorts of terms.

The study looked through millions of genetic variants to see if any significant differences appeared.

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Subsequent research has thrown up mixed results, although recent studies have supported the theory that genetics plays a role in sexual orientation.

These qualifications aside, the study might upturn another common narrative about sexual behaviour.

What we found is that there is no one "gay gene" - instead, there are many, many genes that influence a person's likelihood of having had same-sex partners.

The researchers could not find any patterns among genetic variants that could be used to meaningfully predict or identify a person's sexual behaviour. Previous quests for genes linked to sexuality have been unconvincing.

Other experts not involved in the study had varied reactions.

In the past, some studies have pointed to a genetic marker on the X chromosome, Xq28, that could influence male sexual orientation.

All of these leads are worth exploring in the future.

The Harvard and MIT researchers concluded genetics could account for between 8-25% of same-sex behaviour across the population, when the whole genome is considered. But it's also perfectly human.

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