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Sunday, 11 February, 2001, 14:55 GMT
Nature or nurture?
DNA graphic BBC
Science is unravelling how genes influence behaviour
The human genetic sequence will allow researchers to make rapid progress in understanding the relationship between genes and behaviour.

The finding that we have far fewer genes than expected suggests that environmental influences play a greater role in our development than was previously thought.


This whole debate about cloning is much ado about nothing

Dr Craig Venter
Understanding how a relatively small number of genes translates into the incredible complexity of a human being will be one of the challenges of the future.

"We now have the list of parts [of the human body]," said Sir John Sulston, who spearheaded UK efforts to crack the human code.

"Now we have to find out what all the parts are, we have to find out how all the parts interact and we have to probably do some very sophisticated things to understand how the control of those interactions goes forward to actually build our bodies."

Genetic determinism

Researchers are predicting that the data will unlock some of the secrets of how genes influence behaviour. But they warn against headline-making claims that a given gene can be the cause of crime, homosexuality or even sporting brilliance.

DNA sequencing BBC
Scientists believe about 50% of an individual's risk for an addiction is genetic
Dr Craig Venter, the leader of the private effort to decode the human genome, said genetic determinism, the idea that a person is controlled by their genes, was a fallacy.

"There are two fallacies to be avoided," Dr Venter's team write in the journal Science.

"Determinism, the idea that all characteristics of a person are 'hard-wired' by the genome; and reductionism, that now the human sequence is completely known, it is just a matter of time before our understanding of gene functions and interactions will provide a complete causal description of human variability."

Human cloning

One implication of the work, said Dr Venter, was to calm fears about human cloning. Trying to clone a person to gain immortality would be a pointless venture, he said.

Dr Venter told the BBC: "This whole debate about cloning is much ado about nothing because while you may be able to, as with twins, have someone who looks similar to you, the chances of them having the same personality and the same outcome in life is close to zero.

"That's why you can't have Xerox copies of people; you can't have clones of people that will be the same."

One area where the study of genes is expected to have an impact is in identifying mental disorders with genetic roots, perhaps reducing the stigma of conditions such as depression or schizophrenia.

Researchers are also closing in on stretches of genetic code that may make an individual more vulnerable to developing drug or alcohol addiction.


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