The Utopia Gene

Damien Broderick (
Mon, 16 Jun 1997 11:12:28 +0000

Parental genetic imprinting has been cropping up in recent journals- a
mechanism whereby alleles are slightly different in effect when received
from either M or F parent. One study found mice get their brains from
their mums and their poisonalities from their dads.

The latest, in this week's Nature, I believe, found that Turner's syndrome
(single X) girls are either empathic sweeties or naughty depending on
whether they got their X from dad or mum. Counter-intuitively, the
Male-derived X is switched on for the former trait, and kickstarts the
developmental cascade that encourages sociality and Niceness and Sugar &
Spice stuff. The Female-derived X has the gene turned off (it seems), so
boys are all prone to be horrid self-centred bastards.

It struck me that the road to utopia is therefore clear - switch on that
gene in boy foetuses. (I assume it's way too late to do anything once the
developmental path is well-launched.) It wouldn't turn boys gay, I presume
- or (a different point entirely) into wimps, because women are obviously
capable of protective ferocity, not to mention crabbiness. But it would do
the world a lot of good if human males were like females in this general
respect. <pause to allow the alpha males to bellow in rage> Science
fiction has verged on such a possibility in books such as Stanislaw Lem's
RETURN FROM THE STARS, where men are calmed but not literally emasculated
by `betrization', and in John Brunner's STAND ON ZANZIBAR, where a mutation
makes everyone in a certain tribe more empathic.

A further speculation: every now and then, the salient gene will be tweaked
on by accident or mutation in a male. What critter emerges? A (potential)
saint, perhaps? Jesus and Buddha and St Francis? Or, after all, Priscilla
Queen of the Zodiac?

Ditto girls with dad's gene tweaked off in error - the rare bad/andro girl?
Serial killettes? Mrs Thatcher? (Prob not the latter; she used her full
complement of sociality skills to other than standard ends, I suspect.)
But it means that the old sf scheme of lesbians making kids sans men by
recombining haploid bits of their ova would lead to a world of women just
as nasty and brutish as the men they replace (but shorter)...

Damien Broderick