Photo: Rodney Smith “Don Jumping Over the Hay”, 1999
A Chinese proverb says: “In calm times, adventurers sit in prison, and in troubled times they become emperors”. In the 21st century, modern science has confirmed the correctness of ancient Chinese wisdom. It turns out that great scientists, heroes, discoverers and great criminals do have something in common at the genetic level …
THE STATE OF ADVANCES
The “adventurism gene” (7R allele of the DRD4 gene) was discovered in 1999 by a group of geneticists from the University of California under the leadership of the scientist Chuan Sheng Chen. 7R is actually not that rare. About 20% of people on the planet have this variation of the gene, that is, every fifth. In the rest of humanity, it is most often present in the form of 4R.
By comparing 7R with the patterns of behavior of their carriers, scientists have found that it increases the propensity of people to take risks, seek new experiences, impulsivity and hyperactivity. Therefore, the “gene of adventurism” is sometimes also called the “gene of curiosity”, or “the gene of new impressions”.
Following the discovery, 12 years of research by Californian scientists have shown that 7R is most often found in people whose ancestors left their historical homeland in search of a better life. That is, in the genetic sense, Americans, whose European ancestors rushed to explore the Wild West with indomitable energy, can be safely called a nation of “adventurers”.
A CIVILIZATION THAT DROPS OUT ADVANCEMENT
The frequency of the 7R allele in different human populations varies from 0 to 78%. It means that there are more and less “adventurous peoples”. It is most often found in American Indians, less often in East Asians. In Europe, the greatest “adventurers” were the Irish, a nation whose impulsive nature is well known.
Further study in this direction of the “gene of adventurism”, following the Americans, was continued by Brazilian genetics. They analyzed the distribution of DRD4 allele frequencies in South American Indians. And it turned out that in the tribes that have recently led the way of life of hunter-gatherers, the “adventurism gene” is found more often than among the sedentary peoples who have long been engaged in agriculture.
Later, Russian studies found an increased percentage of the 7R allele in the Turks and Mongols, whose ancestors led a nomadic lifestyle. The lifestyle of nomads, hunter-gatherers, led to the fact that hyperactivity, impulsivity, and active searching behavior could provide an adaptive advantage.
But the transition to settled life and agriculture made its phenotypic manifestations more harmful than useful. It is not surprising, therefore, that in East Asia, where powerful centralized states have existed for a long time, the 7R allele is so rare.
ADVENTURERS EAT BETTER
About 150 thousand years ago, for reasons we do not understand, the human population almost died out, decreasing to 10 thousand! It means that a significant part of the gene pool has been lost. During the passage through this “bottleneck”, the biological species Homo sapiens appeared.
The 7R allele appeared about 50-60 thousand years ago as a result of a mutation. Probably, it was associated with the first global “adventure” in the history of homo sapiens – the exit from Africa and the rapid dispersal across the planet. No living creature migrates like a person. Neanderthals are no exception, they were also not travelers. But our ancestors in just 50 thousand years inhabited all continents.
Recent research has shown that the diets of those ancient hunter-gatherers were almost perfectly balanced. During the Neolithic Revolution, cereal centers were formed, and the sources of food resources became much more reliable and stable. Although, in general, the “civilized” person began to eat a little worse.
Gradually, he began to lose the “adventurism gene” characteristic of hunters and gatherers who are prone to the risky “search for novelty”. For uncivilized people, in the face of a lack of resources or a highly volatile environment, 7R helped to survive.
Farmers did not need it, it was much more profitable for them to stake on “healthy conservatism”. This theory in 2008 was confirmed by a study of the African Ariaal people living in Northern Kenya. It was found that in groups leading a nomadic lifestyle, carriers of 7R eat, on average, better than carriers of other alleles, and in groups that have switched to a settled lifestyle, the situation has changed to the opposite.
DECEPATIVE “ZONE OF PARADISE”
There is a zone in the brain that scientists call the “zone of paradise”. When the hormone of motivation dopamine appears in it, a person experiences a feeling of pleasure, joy, happiness. This hormone is released when survival needs are met – for food, drink, sexual activity, etc. This is a very powerful mechanism.
When the rats were given a false signal from the “paradise” zone with the help of the electrode, they stopped even drinking and eating, endlessly pressing the “happy” lever that applied current to the electrode. Alcoholism, drug addiction and cravings for gambling, by the way, are formed according to the same principle.
If the gene responsible for the production of dopamine is “not in itself”, then it needs strong stimuli, strong sensations. Such a person is hyperactive, he must always be in pursuit of new impressions, take risks, go on some kind of adventures.
7R carriers need a lot more dopamine to be satisfied than the vast majority of people. But this situation gives rise not only to great artists, athletes, scientists and such historical figures as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, Christopher Columbus.
7R carriers may be prone to destructive and antisocial actions, they are able to decide on the most terrible crimes. In a catastrophic situation, when something terrible happens for most people, they will remain calm and as if even happy.
NYMPHOMANS AND LIBERALS
The “adventurism gene” is responsible for many amazing phenomena. For example, for increased sexual activity. For example, Genghis Khan is the most prolific man in the history of mankind. Today every 200th inhabitant of the Earth is his descendant. In the course of distant migrations across the Great Steppe, carriers of 7R received an adaptive advantage and reproduced more efficiently than people with a more balanced disposition.
In general, with a nomadic lifestyle, 7R carriers live better and leave more offspring on average. In 2007, scientists L. Penke and G. Miller published data that all transsexuals and people prone to sexual promiscuity have the 7R allele. This form of the gene is also found in women with nymphomania. Interestingly, quite recently, in American pedagogical practice, children were divided into two types – calm “farmers” and overly active “hunters”.
The latter were diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and prescribed a sedative. Recently, however, a correlation has been found between this syndrome and the “adventurism gene”. It was even proposed to form classes on a genetic basis. But the “adventures” of the gene in the modern world did not end there either.
In 2010, geneticists at the University of San Diego studied the role of the D4 dopamine receptor in shaping political views in young Americans. They found that if the carrier of the 7R allele has a wide social circle, then they are highly likely to adhere to extremely liberal views. But the political preferences of the owners of other variants of the gene turned out to be in no way connected with the number of friends.