UT researchers find genetic trigger may be clue in homosexuality

UT researchers find genetic trigger may be clue in homosexuality

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"If they're able to connect it genetically, it could help explain several things just on the side of nature, what nature has to do with sexuality," said Cody Foster. "If they're able to connect it genetically, it could help explain several things just on the side of nature, what nature has to do with sexuality," said Cody Foster.
"I think it does help to strengthen the argument that a person's sexual orientation isn't something that you decide," Ben Byers, the chair of the Tennessee Equality Project, explained. "I think it does help to strengthen the argument that a person's sexual orientation isn't something that you decide," Ben Byers, the chair of the Tennessee Equality Project, explained.

By ALEXIS ZOTOS
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Researchers at the University of Tennessee hope new research will help answer questions surrounding the long-running debate over homosexuality. Are people born gay or is it a lifestyle choice?

An evolutionary biology and mathematics professor at the UT co-authored the study.

Data suggests homosexuality runs in families. Instead of a gay gene, as researchers have spent years looking for, it now appears homosexuality is more likely a genetic trigger. 

That is a fact many in the gay community have believed all along.

"If they're able to connect it genetically, it could help explain several things just on the side of nature, what nature has to do with sexuality," said Cody Foster.

Foster and his younger brother Colton may have inherited more than just blonde hair from their mother.

"Given that both my brother and I are gay, I always felt there was a connection genetically," said Foster.

New research released Tuesday in the Quarterly Review of Biology found homosexuality could pass from one parent to offspring of the opposite sex.

"When these epi-marks are transmitted across generations from fathers to daughters or mothers to sons, they may cause reversed effects, such as feminization of some traits in sons, such as sexual preference, and similarly a partial masculinization of daughters," researcher Sergey Gavrilets explained.

The study explains epi-marks may be the trigger researchers have been looking for.

Epi-marks are essentially an extra layer of information attached to our genes' backbones that regulates their expression. While genes hold the instructions, epi-marks direct how those instructions are carried out.

Ben Byers, the chair of the Tennessee Equality Project, says the study solidifies something he already knew.

"I think it does help to strengthen the argument that a person's sexual orientation isn't something that you decide," Byers explained. "It's not a choice. It's part of who you are. Whether you're tall or short, or have brown hair or blonde hair, whether you're gay or straight or lesbian or bi-sexual is just part of the make-up of who you are,"

Gavrilets explained no "gay gene" has been discovered.

"No major gene for homosexuality has been found despite numerous studies searching for a genetic connection," he said.

The study does find, however, a mathematical modeling that genetic epi-marks are transmitted through families.

Both Foster and Byers doubt a "gay gene" exists, but believe genetics plays a large role.

"These epi-genetics are part of what controls which of our genes are turned on and off at times in our lives. I think it speaks to a more subtle effect," Byers said.

"I think genes are involved, nurture is involved, relationships and your family life is involved, I think it all comes in a part to play how you develop sexually," Foster added.

While the research is in its early stages, Foster believes it could have a profound impact in the future.

"It can be eye opening and it's a step for the future," Foster believes. "For future kids to possibly not have to deal with things that myself and my brother had to deal with our entire lives."

Researchers admit this is a controversial topic and while they have found mathematically this is the most plausible way to explain how genetics influence homosexuality, there are other factors to determine sexual orientation.

6 News reached out to conservative State Sen. Stacey Campfield for comment, who in the past made controversial comments about gays and has sponsored legislation limiting the discussion of sexual orientation in schools.

Campfield said he found the study to be inconclusive, saying it did not offer definite proof that homosexuality is genetic or if it is a learned trait.

Campfield added that there is not an answer one way or another and there may never be.

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