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Born to be Bad? Mom Can Save You

Are some people "born to be bad?" Scientists say that certain people inherit DNA that gives them more aggression and lessserotonin (the hormone that makes us happy). But even if you're born with a bad gene, your mother can save you.

Andy Coghlan writes in New Scientist that a 2002 study bypsychiatrist Terrie Moffitt followed the lives of 1037 New Zealand children born in 1972. She found that children weremuch more likely to grow up to be aggressive and antisocial if they inherited a "short" version of a gene called MAOA,which makes it harder to absorb serotonin. But it only became a problem if the kids had an abusive upbringing. If they had GOOD mothers, they were usually completely normal.

Now Stephen Suomi has repeated the study with monkeys,showing that carriers of the "short" MAOA gene only turn bad with bad mothering. He says, "Good mothering has a bufferingeffect--The general principle of parenting is important andcan have impacts not only at the level of behavior, but alsoin hormonal activities, brain chemistry, structure andfunction, and at the level of gene expression."

Roger Highfield writes in the Telegraph that a single genecould make some people happy and other people gloomy, depending on which version we get, because it controlsour serotonin levels. Researcher Xiaodong Zhang has foundtwo versions of this gene, called typtophan hydroxylase-2(Tph2). He says, "This single genetic difference has a hugeimpact on serotonin levels, confirming that the gene isfundamental in the synthesis of brain serotonin."

These discoveries will eventually lead to more drugs for troublesome kids, because (alas) we don't know how to create good mothers.



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