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Bioethics. 2013 Sep;27(7):382-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8519.2012.01970.x. Epub 2012 Apr 12.

The 'warrior gene' and the Mãori people: the responsibility of the geneticists.

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1
Centre de Recherche Interdisciplinaire en Bioéthique (CRIB), Philosophy Department, Université libre de Bruxelles, Belgium. lperbal@ulb.ac.be

Abstract

The 'gene of' is a teleosemantic expression that conveys a simplistic and linear relationship between a gene and a phenotype. Throughout the 20th century, geneticists studied these genes of traits. The studies were often polemical when they concerned human traits: the 'crime gene', 'poverty gene', 'IQ gene', 'gay gene' or 'gene of alcoholism'. Quite recently, a controversy occurred in 2006 in New Zealand that started with the claim that a 'warrior gene' exists in the Mãori community. This claim came from a geneticist working on the MAOA gene. This article is interested in the responsibility of that researcher regarding the origin of the controversy. Several errors were made: overestimation of results, abusive use of the 'gene of' kind of expression, poor communication with the media and a lack of scientific culture. The issues of the debate were not taken into account sufficiently, either from the political, social, ethical or even the genetic points of view. After more than 100 years of debates around 'genes of' all kinds (here, the 'warrior gene'), geneticists may not hide themselves behind the media when a controversy occurs. Responsibilities have to be assumed.

KEYWORDS:

MAOA; Maori; ethical responsibility; warrior gene

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