Saturday, January 12, 2013

Adventure and Genes and Nomads and Neanderthals

by Kaye George

In college, the old Nature or Nurture thing was debated on and on. I don’t think anyone ever reached a conclusion, because it’s more complicated than that. It’s both, or it’s something else, or whatever.

Nevertheless, a new discovery may explain another dichotomy: Settler or Nomad. Some people are born, raised, and live their whole lives in one limited area. Others have to get up and go. Across the state, across the country, around the world. I’m the second kind, a Nomad. My family is scattered all over, too, at least the one’s on my dad’s side. One of my kids stuck close, but the other two took off and ventured into the unknown.

My husband and I have moved many times, usually to a different state. Only once did we move where we knew anyone else, and that was Michigan, where I knew two people, just by coincidence. We’re doing it again this month, moving across the country from Texas to Tennessee, but this one is different. Hubby is retiring and we’re chasing those far-flung kids of ours. Why are we doing this? Why did my dad’s family go from Germany to Ireland in the 1700s, from Ireland to the US in the 1800s (OK, that was because of the Potato Famine)? Why did they roam from Pennsylvania to Kansas in covered wagons, then spread from Washington state to Illinois to California and, briefly for one of them, to India?

An article in the latest National Geographic has an answer! The magazine, in celebration of its 125th anniversary, has put out a special issue devoted to the topic of why we explore. I call our tendency to want to move after a few years, our desire to see someplace new, Itchy Feet. National Geographic calls it Restless Genes. There is a genetic mutation that was discovered several years ago, a variant of a gene called DRD4, that possibly is responsible. This gene helps control dopamine, the chemical brain substance that figures in learning and reward. The variant, called DRD4-7R, is carried by about 20 percent of humans, and has been tied to curiosity and restlessness. So, I guess, we can’t help it.
Here are some links to articles about this:
“ nomadic populations had higher frequencies of 7R alleles than sedentary ones. “

Dear to my heart is the tie to Neanderthals:
Although this article is not entirely complimentary to them! The gene mutation is also tied to things like ADHD, bipolarism, addiction, and other conditions.

All Neanderthal images are in the public domain.


Morgan Mandel said...

I don't have that gene. I like to stay put most of the time. Sometimes I get bored, but not enough to go wandering. People like me depend on people like you to show us the rest of the world!

Morgan Mandel

Kaye George said...

I left off a paragraph I should have added! This mutation is sometimes called the Neanderthal gene and about 20 percent of the general population has it. So I'm the outlier, not you, Morgan. :)

We all need each other, I always think. If no one stayed put, who would know all the local gossip and who's related to who(m)? My mother's side of the family never roamed far for the last several generations. All of us Americans, except the natives, must have had some form of it, to leave their native lands and venture to this crazy place.

Mary Ann Loesch said...

Great post, Kaye! Brillant as usual!

Kaye George said...

Thank you, Mary Ann !

Anonymous said...

Great post. So I'm a Neanderthal. Several books on Adult ADD advise ADDs to marry non-ADDs. Way back when, I suppose, those books advised Neanderthals to marry Modern Humans.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

great post. I've moved a lot but like to live near family.

Kaye George said...

towrite, I'm picturing a book advising Neanderthals--funny! Thanks, Marilyn