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June 16, 2004 9:15 PM   Subscribe

Scientists find rodent monogamy gene. Emory researchers say that a single gene can change promiscuous rodents into faithful partners. Insert a certain gene of the monogamous prairie vole into the brain of the normally slutty meadow vole, and suddenly the meadow vole stops going to bars and hitting on other field mice. Previously, the same scientists' extensive research uncovered a vole sociability gene. In addition to its implications for autism and Asperger's Syndrome, the study could spawn the next reality show hit, "Who Wants a Monogamy Implant?" (Would you do it, if you could?)
posted by onlyconnect (21 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Heh. Right now I could use the sociability gene (to give you an idea, my real life is not much more impressive than my MeFi contacts list at the moment). But after finding a mate and settling down, would I?

Well... it chafes a bit at my conception that monogamy ought to grow out of respect for and attachment for a single person that's so strong you simply don't consider anything else. But I'm also aware from both observation and the dating relationships I've had that lifelong monogamy worthy of the term marriage can require a loyalty deeper than mere sentiment, and maybe the occasional flotation device like counseling. And if that, why not gene therapy?
posted by weston at 10:33 PM on June 16, 2004


Then again, one of the fundamental quagmires in gentics is the nature vs. nurture argument. With humans, I would tend to think that with something like that, it is much more nurture than nature though I don't doubt nature plays a role.
posted by jmd82 at 10:35 PM on June 16, 2004


I realize that monogamy might confer the semblance of stability, but is it really viable or desirable?

People change. Your self is not static and neither is your SO's. The romantic notion underlying the lure of monogamy is that there is this "pure"(static) essence of your partner, over which complexities, nuances and dissonances are laid atop, and that only if you could recognize and treasure this essence, monogamy would be viable. There ain't no such essence.
posted by Gyan at 10:45 PM on June 16, 2004


great title onlyconnect ;)
posted by gen at 10:50 PM on June 16, 2004


our self is not static and neither is your SO's...monogamy would be viable. There ain't no such essence.

There may not be any such static essence, but that doesn't make monogamy un-viable. There's plenty of rhetorical room left for a group dynamic of two, an entity which itself grows and changes as partners grow and change within it. That entity may not be negotiable with a given couple, which means they break up, but I've seen it negotiated well before, by people who have been doing it a lifetime.

Come to think of it, any cohesive group is going to face similar challenges. I've been part of tribes of friends that formed and fell apart, musical groups that couldn't quite work, seen my own family re-negotiate relationships between siblings and parents/children as time goes by -- for example, watching my Dad transition from the conscientious provider who always felt the need to pick up the tab (and somewhat locked out, too, as if he worried his place depended on that) to a person who'd let me take him out for dinner and a movie for his birthday. And I doubt that a simple genetic modification could make the difference in ones ability to negotiate all of these situations. Yet... maybe there is an underlying cognitive skill, learned or inherited which helps.
posted by weston at 11:13 PM on June 16, 2004


Where can I get the promiscuous gene? I have a fear of non-term relationships.
posted by fatbobsmith at 11:25 PM on June 16, 2004


weston: There may not be any such static essence, but that doesn't make monogamy un-viable.

Viability which is a result of {social,emotional...} pressure. If monogamy is not desirable, then should the monogamy that thrives be called a viable one?
posted by Gyan at 11:45 PM on June 16, 2004


and then johnny realized that his mind was not a television set and that life is just boring when youre a bore
posted by Satapher at 1:44 AM on June 17, 2004


"[...]monogamy ought to grow out of respect for and attachment for a single person[...]"

We'll find the respect and attachment gene too, just you wait and see.
posted by spazzm at 3:27 AM on June 17, 2004


Monogamy confers big economic benefits. For voles, maybe, or maybe not. But for humans, yes. Also - for men - it seems to extend lifespan. Presumeably because single men often have a poor diet. But marriage seems to cut into the lifespan of women - maybe this is just due to the stresses of childbirth and child rearing ?

________________________

[ me : night. rain. in a dark alley-like city street, at the Korean "Chop 'n Splice" gene-mod shop. Think - "Blade Runner" ]

"I'll take a heavy dose of the long term monogamy gene, please, but go a little lighter on the 'respect' and 'attachment' genes."

"Ahh yes. Very smart. Nothing like little jealousy and good quarrel to spice up a relationship. $100 cash please. Pay first. Now, blood sample. Very good. Monogamy confer economic benefit, you know. Want relevant research? Here. Read while wait."
posted by troutfishing at 5:07 AM on June 17, 2004


But, maybe they shouldn't be messing around with genes like this. Kurt Stocklmeir has written a scary poem to underline the possible results of gene-mixing.
posted by troutfishing at 5:51 AM on June 17, 2004


jmd82: Then again, one of the fundamental quagmires in gentics is the nature vs. nurture argument.

Probably this is the place to insert the standard rant that to the people who make their bread and butter off of this stuff, the question has been less nature vs. nurture but "how much of each."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:17 AM on June 17, 2004


Viability which is a result of {social,emotional...} pressure. If monogamy is not desirable, then should the monogamy that thrives be called a viable one?

It depends on whether when you see something that you didn't want thriving, you look at it as a weed or as serendipity. :)

And while I don't think that you can make a blanket judgement as to social/emotional pressure being necessarily bad (ie, it can actually be supportive), if one generally sees monogamy as "Good Grief, I'm stuck with this one person," then no, I don't think that's viable, and it's certainly not one I can imagine someone entering into monogamy under.
posted by weston at 7:45 AM on June 17, 2004


"The romantic notion underlying the lure of monogamy is that there is this "pure"(static) essence of your partner, over which complexities, nuances and dissonances are laid atop, and that only if you could recognize and treasure this essence, monogamy would be viable."

I think our western/modern society has romanticized human relationships, including, but not limited to, the notion that marriage/monogamy are about a love similar to this concept which you put forth, gyan. However, much of the rest of the world considers monogamy/marriage to be about practical relationships and family. Women and men in arranged marriages in India and other countries, for example, have little choice who they marry.

I'm not arguing that one is preferable to the other. In fact, I would argue that a combination of the two is best. I think that people should have the freedom to choose who to marry for themselves. However, I also think that people are more likely to have 'viable' monogamous relationships if they realize that there are other practical concerns besides romantic love involved.

People from a few generations back in our western world had the choice who to marry, but also didn't have the option of divorce. These relationships weren't any better because the power structure was unequal and wives were often the ones forced to stay in miserable, abusive relationships.

Now that we have the supposed equality of sexes, however, it should be easier for men and women to achieve a relationship of equals that is based on mutual respect and understanding. I think if two people have mutual respect and understanding for each other, they can spend a lifetime together and grow both together and separately. In this way, they can have the best of both worlds.

This is equally true for same-sex couples, or even for 3, 4 or 5-way relationships.

In fact, its the very key to society - mutual respect. Any two people who respect each other and treat each other with respect can have a successful relationship, whether it be friendship, business or romantic or a combination of 2 or all 3.

Once we've come to this conclusion, the question becomes, "what are the benefits of monogamy and / or marriage, and should I engage in such a relationship, and if so, for how long? Specifically, what are the benefits of a (lifetime? temporary?) commitment to one or more people?"
posted by PigAlien at 8:23 AM on June 17, 2004


But, Weston, why do you want to be sociable with voles?
posted by theora55 at 9:08 AM on June 17, 2004


Keep that thing away from me!!
posted by rushmc at 10:26 AM on June 17, 2004


PigAlien: I think if two people have mutual respect and understanding for each other, they can spend a lifetime together and grow both together and separately. In this way, they can have the best of both worlds.

That's what I'm getting at. This (mutual) respect is dependent on the other person. (S)He can change to the point that you pretend to shower that respect only out of pressure and inertia.
posted by Gyan at 11:01 AM on June 17, 2004


Now if only they could discover the gene that would prevent Little Rabbit FooFoo from scooping up the field mice and bopping them on the head. That'd show that ol' Fairy Godmother. (Hare today, goon tomorrow...)
posted by NedKoppel at 12:21 PM on June 17, 2004


OK, I'm really interested in the connection to autism and Asperger's Syndrome. The text of the linked article is hardly helpful:

The research could have great implications for individuals with autism or Asperger's Syndrome, disorders that impair social behavior..."It's conceivable that some defect in some gene would turn out to be an explanation for some of those syndromes," said Melvin Konner, a professor of psychology and neurology at Emory who wrote an article commenting on Young's research.

By contrast, what's not conceivable is the newsworthiness of that quote. If anyone comes upon some real info, I'd appreciate a link.
posted by alms at 3:25 PM on June 17, 2004


alms, in the link from the post on the word "Previously," the article making clear that the link between the monogamy study and social disorders such as autism or by extension Asperger's Syndrome, is vasopressin and the vasopressin receptor gene:

To determine if this sequence difference was important for the distribution of vasopressin receptors in the brain, the Emory team incorporated the prairie vole vasopressin receptor gene with its long promoter sequence into the genome of mice, which are naturally much less social than prairie voles. In the resulting transgenic mice, the vasopressin receptor was expressed in a pattern that resembled what they had found in the prairie vole brain. Moreover, these transgenic mice when given vasopressin responded with increased social behavior, exactly as prairie voles but different from normal mice or montane voles.

Young and Insel recently studied vasopressin receptors in nonhuman primates and now plan to focus on variation in the receptors in humans. Virtually every form of human psychiatric disorder is characterized by abnormal social attachments, yet very little is known about social bond formation-its anatomy, chemistry and physiology remain unmapped territories. Discovery of such information could be clinically relevant for treatment of autism and schizophrenia, which result in isolation and detachment.


And from this article, linked on the "extensive research" link:

"We’d like to find out whether oxytocin and vasopressin receptors are altered in cases of autism, Tourette’s syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, and even schizophrenia—forms of psychopathology that are marked by the absence of attachment behavior," Insel says. "Since the core feature of autism is the inability to form those attachments, finding out the basis of social attachment in healthy animals and humans may be a place to begin."

There may be more info in more of the articles linked on the "extensive research" link above.
posted by onlyconnect at 4:08 PM on June 17, 2004


With humans, I would tend to think that with something like that, it is much more nurture than nature though I don't doubt nature plays a role.
posted by jmd82 at 12:35 AM CST on June 17


Eh.. clarify "much more nurture". Certainly the only reason we need conditioning in the first place is because many humans desire to hump like bunnies. Of course nurture can vastly change behavior, but not do away with drives.

Gene therapy will do away with drives.
posted by firestorm at 8:15 PM on June 17, 2004


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