Friday, August 11, 2006
Once were warriors: gene linked to Maori violence
MAORIS carry a "warrior" gene that makes them more prone to violence, criminal acts and risky behaviour, a scientist has controversially claimed.
Dr Rod Lea, a New Zealand researcher, and his colleagues told an Australian genetics conference that Maori men had a "striking over-representation" of monoamine oxidase - dubbed the warrior gene - which they say is strongly associated with aggressive behaviour.
He says the unpublished studies prove that Maoris have the highest prevalence of this strength gene, first discovered by US researchers but never linked to an ethnic group.
This explains how Maoris migrated across the Pacific and survived, said Dr Lea, a genetic epidemiologist at the New Zealand Institute of Environmental Science and Research.
But he said the presence of the gene also "goes a long way to explaining some of the problems Maoris have".
"Obviously, this means they are going to be more aggressive and violent and more likely to get involved in risk-taking behaviour like gambling," Dr Lea said before his presentation to the International Congress of Human Genetics in Brisbane.
Dr Lea said he believed other, non-genetic factors might also be at play. "There are lots of lifestyle, upbringing-related exposures that could be relevant here, so obviously the gene won't automatically make you a criminal."
The same gene was linked to high rates of alcoholism and smoking. "In terms of alcohol-metabolising genes we've found that Maori have a very unique genetic signature," Dr Lea said.
"That influences their drinking behaviour, so they're much more likely to binge drink than other groups …"
The researchers are now collecting thousands of DNA samples from Maoris to investigate these traits.
They can then work out precisely what role each gene plays and use this to explore these trends in the mainstream populations.
"With Maori it's easier to find the genes than it is in the broader Caucasian population so it's a great case study," Dr Lea said.