Rants: It's not genetic

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July 22, 2011


Note: Adult language

A recent Outside Magazine had the cover headline - Tap into your Hero Gene.  This is dumb. There is a website saying that a love of tractors is genetic.  This is also dumb.  Unfortunately heroism and tractor-love or shopaholism or other ridiculous pop culture diseases are NOT genetic, but stupidity is. 

Host: Torah Kachur

Photo credits:, adesf, Dove, Wikimedia user Chmod007, safaris-direct,



on March 24, 2010
March 25, 2010
Interesting video! The brain's plasticity is incredible and so much of the nervous system relies on its ability to change. That there is no 'hard-wiring' (just like I said)...this guy is just so much more eloquent.
kevin on May 11, 2010
What do you weigh, Torah? I hope you never complain about being overweight because, according to you, it's your conscious choice to be exactly the shape you are.How about Diabetes? Alcoholism? Heart disease? And yes, obesity? Family history (translation: genetics) is a huge risk factor for these diseases. Yes, there are people who eat 3k calories a day, never exercise and incorrectly blame their obesity on their genes. But what do you care? Get over it. People (including me, I'm sure) will always have blind spots.You disingenuously oversimplify a complex and important issue, and your language is abusive. Fail.
Torah Kachur May 11, 2010
Thank you for your comments Kevin. Certainly the intersection between genetics and environment is very complex and differs for every trait that can be discussed. There may be underlying genetic predispositions for certain traits that are not simple Mendelian inheritance - or a single gene defect. However, an individual can control their overall health and wellbeing to trump the DNA. The many individuals that blame their DNA for their multitude of sins clog the health care system and take money out of the medical system. So, yes, the health of the world affects all of us. And, I like food.
Jennifer on May 11, 2010
Well, I find it comforting to know that our destiny is not predetermined, and that we can control our development through environment and decision making.
Fred on May 12, 2010
Most biological phenomena, especially the complex ones (e.g., illness, intelligence, etc), are the result of both, biological susceptibility (i.e., genetics) and environmental/behavioral factors. So, to suggest that it's one or the other is false. Typically, both must be present simultaneously. Of course, the genetic susceptibility is fixed and the enrivonment can be modified.
Will on May 12, 2010
What are the actual percentages when it comes to something like obesity? How many people have an actual genetic illness that prevents them from ever losing weight, and how many are simply not making healthy life choices? I have long suspected exactly what this video says - that while there are both genetic and environmental factors at play, many people blame genetics for what are in fact life choices. And @Kevin: she looks pretty GD healthy to me. Your point about abusive language looks rather weak when you employ the same.
Torah Kachur May 12, 2010
@ Will - 65% of Americans are overweight and 31% are considered obese. These stats are lower in other regions but the percent increase across the globe in the last 30 years has been pretty consistent. We are getting fat. As for a simple genetic cause of obesity - there have only been a couple (as in like 3) people described (so far) having true genetic obesity (a miniscule proportion of obese people). Often this is a leptin deficiency and there are likely other genetic causes too that are still undiscovered. But, not sufficient to account for the millions of people that are fat. The VAST majority of people can control their weight with diet and exercise - regardless of their parentage. If you are a keener - and I know you are - check out Loos RJ, Bouchard C. 2003 J. Int. Med. Nov;254(5):401-25.
Ross Shaw on May 18, 2010
You might want to update this with recent epigenetic results (Fall 2009) that show you can pass on weight factors but not through your genes.You also might want to acknowledge the evidence that obese people consume less calories on average than lower weight people. It might also help to remember this is "a rant" so not everything is accurate it can be satirical? Comedic?
Ryan Shannon on May 21, 2010
While I understand where Torah's rant originates (I've had a few about things not being genetic myself), you're doing a bit of a disservice when you simplify things to the point of making blanket statements like "if you weigh 300 lbs, it's not genetic." While behavioural genetics is still in its relative infancy, there is quite a bit of data that suggests behaviour has a large genetic component itself. While a person may not have a genetic predisposition to a physical condition, they may have a behavioural predisposition toward certain types of coping mechanisms. Some mental illnesses in particular (schizophrenia, bipolar disorder) have a large genetic component which is triggered by environmental factors and behaviour. Is it really that difficult to fathom that personality factors and coping styles (which often lead to obesity) are really all that different?

While I agree that most obesity is not a simple issue of genetics that is uncontrollable, simplifying your rants to the point where they lose their nuance is doing everyone a bit of a disservice, even if they don't necessarily have a post-secondary education in genetics to begin with. So I concede the spirit of your rant, but I disagree with the simplicity in which you've presented it.

You were still the best TA I had in my 400-level genetics courses (years ago) though, so I can't complain too much =) Congrats on the blog being picked up by Nature, that's huge.
Anna Banana on May 21, 2010
I know this is a bit past the whole flare-up point, but as I was reading the comments, I thought Jenn's said:

"Well, I find it comforting to know that our DENSITY is not predetermined"

Instead of DESTINY.

And I really enjoyed that. Even though I know weight, mass and density are totally different. Also, destiny. But my density destiny has a lot to do with my dual penchants for doritos and exercise fighting an epic life-long throwdown a'la Thunderdome.

Basically, my metabolism is Mad Max. Or Tina Turner. She was so hot in that movie.


Mad props for Nature!!! Scientist chicks rule.



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