Dean Hamer

Dr Dean Hamer (born 1951) is a geneticist, who, as of 2007 is the director of the Gene Structure and Regulation Unit at the U.S. National Cancer Institute (part of the National Institutes of Health). He obtained his BA at Trinity College, CT, U.S. and his Ph.D from Harvard Medical School.

He was a co-inventor of gene transfer in animal cells and the first to produce growth hormones, vaccine subunits, and other useful products by this approach. He also pioneered the use of gene transfer to study gene regulation during development and changes in the environment.

In the 1990s Hamer began studies of the role of genes in human behavior. In 1993 he published a paper suggesting the existence of genes that predispose men towards homosexuality, and presented evidence that one of these genes was associated with the Xq28 marker on the X chromosome. Subsequently, several additional linked regions on other chromosomes have been described, and the heritability of sexual orientation has been claimed via improved twin studies. However, the interpretation of purported results has been contested, and critics have claimed that environmental sources may play an equal if not overriding part in sexual orientation. Furthermore, participants were obtained for studies through gay magazines, which may have lead to an unrepresentative and biased sample. For example, a homosexual identical twin who believed his sexuality to be genetically based would be unlikely to participate if his identical brother was heterosexual, as results would contradict his own understanding of homosexuality. The results obtained may therefore have been the only ones this method of sampling could produce.

In 1996, Hamer and colleagues investigated the genetic roots of anxiety, and found that the gene for the serotonin transporter, which is the target of antidepressant drugs such as Prozac, is partially responsible. This polymorphism has been extensively investigated in over 300 scientific studies (as of 2006), and its activity has been confirmed by direct brain imaging studies.

More recently, Hamer has postulated the existence of a God gene for religious experience. This work, which was featured on the cover of Time magazine, has been predictably controversial.

Currently Hamer is conducting research into the field of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) microbicides and HIV latency. This work involves engineering and animal model testing of a live microbial microbicide. By engineering a non-pathogenic endrogenous strain of E. coli (nissle 1917) to secrete HIV fusion inhibiting peptides on the sexual mucosa of patients Hamer hopes to create a long lasting, transparent, barrier to HIV infection.

In addition to his scientific work, he has published a number of popular science books aimed at a general readership and is the holder of a number of patents. He has also produced several documentary films on topics ranging from homophobia to bodyboard surfing.


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