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Big Gay might not like this …

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From Nature:

Epigenetic ‘tags’ linked to homosexuality in men

The researchers collected DNA samples in saliva from 37 pairs of identical twins in which only one twin was gay, and 10 pairs in which both were gay. By scanning the twins’ epigenomes, the researchers found five epi-marks that were more common among the gay men than in their genetically identical straight brothers. An algorithm they developed based on the five epi-marks could correctly predict the sexual orientation of men in the study 67% of the time. UCLA computational geneticist Tuck Ngun will present the work on 8 October at the American Society of Human Genetics meeting in Baltimore, Maryland.

Vilain is not surprised to find that epigenetics is associated with sexual orientation, although he says it is too early to try to directly link the epi-marks to any particular environmental exposure or the expression of a specific gene. Ngun says that the researchers want to replicate the study in a different group of twins and also determine whether the same marks are more common in gay men than in straight men in a large and diverse population. Associations found in small studies are prone to evaporate when tested in larger groups. More.

The Nature editors added a note that the study has come under heavy fire.

See also: Epigenetic change: Lamarck, wake up, you’re wanted in the conference room!

Also, from the Atlantic, whose writer is not thrilled:

No, Scientists Have Not Found the ‘Gay Gene’

If you use this strategy, chances are you will find a positive result through random chance alone. Chances are some combination of methylation marks out of the original 6,000 will be significantly linked to sexual orientation, whether they genuinely affect sexual orientation or not. This is a well-known statistical problem that can be at least partly countered by running what’s called a correction for multiple testing. The team didn’t do that. (In an email to The Atlantic, Ngun denies that such a correction was necessary.)

And, “like everyone else in the history of epigenetics studies they could not resist trying to interpret the findings mechanistically,” wrote John Greally from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in a blog post. By which he means: They gave the results an imprimatur of plausibility by noting the roles of the genes affected by the five epi-marks. One is involved in controlling immune genes that have been linked to sexual attraction. Another is involved in moving molecules along neurons. Could epi-marks on these genes influence someone’s sexual attraction? Maybe. It’s also plausible that someone’s sexual orientation influences epi-marks on these genes. Correlation, after all, does not imply causation. More.

Yes, but funny how few people think to make these critical points when evaluating studies of the fat gene, the religion gene, the infidelity gene, or the bad driving gene. Doubtless, there’ll be plenty similar stuff with epigenetics as with genetics.

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14 Replies to “Big Gay might not like this …

  1. 1
    Andre says:

    Well what do you know homosexuality is a learned behaviour…. who would have thunk!!!!

  2. 2
    daveS says:

    I’m sure we can all remember when we chose our sexual orientation. For me, heterosexuality offered more perks: The possibility of marriage, less abuse from other kids, joining the Boy Scouts. There’s no downside, really.

  3. 3
    Virgil Cain says:

    Ben Gay, Big Gay’s younger brother, had this to say about it:

    And that’s the rub.

  4. 4
    Mapou says:

    This study is not surprising. IMO, homosexuality is a perfect example of epigenetic adaptation. Kind of like guppies and finches. 😀

  5. 5
    cantor says:

    “An algorithm they developed based on the five epi-marks could correctly predict the sexual orientation of men in the study 67% of the time.”

    Say what? Fitting a model to known data is not “prediction”.

    Either the researchers or the Nature writer appear to be ignorant of basic statistics.

    .

  6. 6
    asauber says:

    “I’m sure we can all remember when we chose our sexual orientation”

    Actually, we are constantly choosing what kind of people we are, and are to become.

    Andrew

  7. 7
    wd400 says:

    Cantor — the authors claim to have used the training-set/ test-set method which is perfectly reasonable and could be described by that sentence.

    In fact, it seems their actual data analysis is one of many reasons to think this research is pretty useless.

    Quite why “Big Gay” would care or what epigenetic tags have to do with human rights I do not know.

  8. 8
    wd400 says:

    asauber,

    “I’m sure we can all remember when we chose our sexual orientation”

    Actually, we are constantly choosing what kind of people we are, and are to become.

    To some degree I guess. Are you saying you could just as easily be attracted to men as women (or the other way around if you are gay)? I don’t know many people who belive this.

  9. 9
    daveS says:

    asauber,

    Actually, we are constantly choosing what kind of people we are, and are to become.

    Andrew

    Sure, we all make choices, but to be serious, I don’t recall ever choosing to be heterosexual.

  10. 10
    Virgil Cain says:

    daves:

    Sure, we all make choices, but to be serious, I don’t recall ever choosing to be heterosexual.

    Until you do you are just a homosexual waiting to happen. 🙂

  11. 11
    EvilSnack says:

    Was this peer-reviewed?

    If so, why did not the reviewer note the sample size and reject it on that basis alone?

    (He asked, having suspicions.)

  12. 12
    mahuna says:

    It’s useful to keep in mind that amongst ancient Greeks and Romans (and probably many other Mediterranean folk), female humans were considered to be defective males (since they lacked the external male body parts) and therefore not truly human. Therefore, a man took a wife in the hope of producing more members of the clan, but it was impossible to have a meaningful relationship with a woman.

    So men were expected to have male friends with whom they could actually share love. The Greek city of Thebes went so far as to raise the Theban Band, a military unit composed entirely of pairs of male lovers who had sworn to die defending each other in combat.

    In this social climate, where adolescent males were encouraged to chose one of their father’s friends as a sex partner to further their education and social connections, it is heterosexual love that was considered “perverse”. A man who actually loved his wife romantically was considered flawed. And this same odd version of loveless marriage serving only to produce heirs continued to be common amongst the English upper class into the 20th century. The difference being that English gentlemen were expected to hire whores to satisfy their urges instead of telegraph boys (see “Cleveland Street Scandal”).

  13. 13
    wd400 says:

    Evilsnack,

    This wasn’t reviewed, it’s from a conference talk. But rejecting on sample size “alone” would be dumb. It’s prefectly possible to publish interesting results from small samples, as long as the implications of the studies power are made clear.

  14. 14
    Robert Byers says:

    homosexuality has no moral claim to be normal or good or okay.
    It simply is a failure in the biology of a tiny percentage of the population. In fact Jesus implied there is sexual dysfunction and from failure in the body.
    Its not that people are gay but not having the accurate identity attraction and then its turning into a other attraction due to a desire for attraction.
    There is no gay gene or gay people there is just failure in normal people.
    there is no homosexual creatures. they always are attracted to the opposite sex for sex or breeding. Yet all creatures also easily are bisexual. They can be aroused by the same sex easily.
    In fact I think this is the clue for people.
    Gays are aroused by the same sex just like animals but being humans who are rejecting the opposite sex they are only left with the same sex attraction.
    the gay person can’t tell this in themself.
    In this case animals are rightly investigated about human sexual orientation concepts.

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