The Friendship Gene?

The Friendship Gene?

I’ve been reading with interest about new research which claims that our choice of friends may be unconsciously being decided by our genes.

This research from the University of California claims that the gene DRD2, normally associated with alcoholism, also makes you a more attractive friend to someone who also has DRD2. On the other hand, two people who have gene CYP2A6, said to make you better at absorbing substances such as nicotine, are driven apart.

It’s also believed that there could be an survival instinct triggered by our DNA which causes us to choose partners who are not susceptible to the same diseases.

Professor James Fowler, who is leading the project, said this of the research’s findings;

“That feeling that you get that you’re just going to like somebody or not going to like them – a lot of times we’ll have those instincts about people and we’re not sure where they come from. We think that understanding the genotypes that underlie friendship may help us to understand more of that process.”

The idea of breaking a concept such as friendship down and quantifying it scientifically disturbs me, somehow. It feels like the premise of a 1984-style horror movie. Perhaps enough research into this subject would mean we could make scientific predictions into which friends our children will choose, just by reading their DNA… or perhaps encourage parents to dictate their choices based on DNA evidence of the best friends for their child?

The fact that we now know (or think we know) genes which could determine behaviour regarding alcohol is fascinating, though. In October the ‘tipsy’ gene CYP2E1 was discovered, which apparently protects you against alcoholism. Studies found that the gene makes you react more strongly to alcohol, and that people who have it are less likely to become addicted to drinking. Also, if you have an alcoholic parent you are more likely to drink too much yourself (though by genes or example, I wonder).

Though it’s fairly obvious that genes are far from the only reason why people become alcoholic, I wonder if this research could be used to battle against problems like binge drinking. Knowing that you are naturally more susceptible to becoming addicted than others could be an additional incentive not to drink too much; on the other hand, if you knew you were naturally more likely to become drunk you might be more cautious on a night out.

Part of me worries that the production of information like this could lead us to big brother-style segregation and control. Imagine what it would be like to be turned away from a pub because your DNA says you are more likely to become drunk!

However, I wonder about the unknown benefits this sort of research could bring. It would be very interesting to discover what other surprises our genes have in store.

Photo credit: ~icairocks @ DeviantART

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