Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles claim that they have developed the first test that can accurately predict a man’s sexual orientation based on analysing his DNA.
The researchers examined 400,000 epigenetic tags – that dictate when and where genes are activated – and focussed on five that were notably different in gay and straight identical twins. A resulting algorithm correctly predicted the men’s sexual orientation nearly 70% of the time.
The researchers presented the findings at the American Society of Human Genetics, though they have yet to appear in a peer-reviewed journal.
Lead author Tuck Ngun said in a press release: “To our knowledge, this is the first example of a predictive model for sexual orientation based on molecular markers.”
The skies will be looking rather cloudy on the horizon of the prospect of a peer-review journal however, as the study has caused a stir within the genetic science field and is already under intense scrutiny.
Scientists Finding ‘Gay Gene’ Discredited
The findings themselves may have been blown out of proportion by certain areas of the press that declared that scientists have found the ‘gay gene’ and that the tests upon epigenetic markers could predict sexual orientation with an accuracy of 70%.
While this may be true with the group of the study itself, there is a great deal of concerns hanging over the research, with the number one issue being the size of the study.
The research was only based on 37 pairs of identical male twins who were discordant – which means that one twin in each pair was gay, while the other was straight – and 10 pairs who were both gay.
Although it would be difficult to find more identical twins and conduct additional DNA testing when they had “no funding”, as Tuck Ngun expressed, it is not enough to declare such overstated findings.
Ngun admitted that the study certainly had its shortcomings but stood by his decision to release these findings. He said: “The sample size was not what we wanted. But do I hold out for some impossible ideal or do I work with what I have? I chose the latter.”
The press may be partly to blame for having added fuel to the fire of controversy by greatly exaggerating the power of the scientists’ findings, but perhaps it would have been best to keep this as preliminary research to aid with a future studies that focus on a larger and more diverse population, particularly in hindsight of the resultant press coverage.
John Greally from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine made his thoughts clear on the study in a blog post. He wrote: ‘It’s not personal about [Ngun] or his colleagues, but we can no longer allow poor epigenetics studies to be given credibility if this field is to survive. By poor, I mean uninterpretable.
“The problems in the field are systematic. We need to change how epigenomics research is performed throughout the community.”
DNA Testing is a Powerful Tool
The power of DNA testing may have been greatly exaggerated for this particular application in its current form by the study and also by its press coverage, but this does not mean to say that it is not an essential and practical for other circumstances.
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