Genomics Explaining Extreme Violence

pr127064Geneticists at the University of Connecticut, are planning to study the DNA of Adam Lanza, who murdered 20 first-graders and seven adults in Newtown, Connecticut. Researchers will try to discover whether criminal behavior is actually inherited and gene mutations lead to extreme violence, which might help them prevent someone from committing a serious crime. Zintro experts discuss whether genomics alone can describe violent behavior and this research would stigmatize those who have a genetic aberration but haven’t committed any crime.

Rathankar Rao, an expert in bioinformatics, argues that every phenotype of an individual, his appearance and his behavior depend on his genotype and the genotype, though biochemical, depends also on his environment. “A study of his genome would provide clues to estimate what went wrong in his biochemical environment, genotype, to commit so many murders. There are several instances, where metagenomics work has been carried out to delineate the diseased persons from the normal persons. Not only sequencing based approaches, but a detailed analysis of the metagenome surrounding his sense organs may also be useful,” explains Rao. “The sense organs that communicate the signals to the brain may sense these phenomena as a pleasurable one and which could be either due to mal functioning of the genetic environment a person experiences or due to the bacterial population surrounding his sense organs.”

According to research surgeon and veterinarian, Szczepan Baran, there is a genetic predisposition for mental illness and behavioral problems. “It would be interesting to probe the idea of whether a genetic mutation would increase the propensity for extreme violence. However, this information should also be interpreted with histologic slides of brain tissue, magnetic resonance imaging of the brain, and complete biochemical profiles of subjects to attempt to determine that this genetic mutation is causal or a result of other abnormalities,” he notes. Moreover, Baran defines both genetics and mental health as multifactorial and complex sciences that rely on many influences, including biologic and environmental. “While a genetic mutation may seem to be a simple explanation, it needs to be cautiously interpreted with a wealth of other information as not to stigmatize this malady,” adds Baran. “Family members should be screened, all environmental contaminants should be assessed to make sure that they did not contribute to genetic mutations, and diet should also be scrutinized.”

As bioinformatics expert, Jeffrey Rosenfeld indicates, since genome sequencing is a very new tool in both research and clinical genetics, sequencing a person’s entire genome can only give a picture of their dispositions for genetic diseases and there will be limitations. “A specific variation might lead a person to have a 25% higher chance of heart disease, but it does not mean that the person will definitely get heart disease,” notes Rosenfeld. “These associations are based upon large samples and statistical tests and it is unlikely that there is a known genetic variation associated with mass killers that Lanza will be linked to.” Rosenfeld also points out that genetics only plays a small part in a person’s eventual mental and physical health and circumstances determine how people will act. “It has been shown through studies of identical twins, that people with the identical genetic make-up can have vastly different results. There are cases of identical twins where one is schizophrenic and the other is not,” adds Rosenfeld. “Even if there was found to be a genetic link in Lanza’s genome to violence, there is still the question of why he was pushed to commit this horrible act.”

By Idil Kan