Friday, October 26, 2012

Kinsey Institute Welcomes Dean Hamer Collection To Its Archives

October 2012

The Kinsey Institute welcomes the addition of the Dean Hamer collection to the Kinsey Institute Library at Indiana University. Best known as the discoverer of the “gay gene,” Dr. Hamer’s papers, correspondence, news clips and videos provide fascinating insights into the excitement and controversy that surrounded one of the most important periods in the scientific study of human sexuality.

Hamer, like Alfred Kinsey, began his career as a research biologist. He obtained his BA at Trinity College, CT, his Ph.D. from Harvard Medical School, and was an independent researcher at the National Institutes of Health for 35 years, where he directed the Gene Structure and Regulation Section at the U.S. National Cancer Institute. He invented the first method for introducing new genes into animal cells using viral vectors, which allowed the production of numerous biomedical products, and elucidated one of the first animal gene regulation circuits to be understood at the molecular level.

As the techniques of molecular genetics became increasingly powerful in the 1990s, Hamer turned his attention to the roles of genes in human behavior. He focused on sexual orientation because it was one of the most fundamental aspects of human biology, yet one of the least studied from a molecular perspective – a situation he believed was due to a conservative political climate that stigmatized the objective study of human sexuality.

Combining classical family studies with the newly developed technology of gene mapping by DNA linkage analysis, Hamer's group produced the first molecular evidence for the existence of genes that influence homosexuality in males, and showed that one of these genes is associated with the Xq28 marker on the X chromosome. This finding was replicated in two studies in the United States but not in a third in Canada; meta-analysis indicated Xq28 has a significant but not exclusive effect. Subsequently, several additional linked regions on other chromosomes have been described. The maternal transmission pattern was also confirmed in studies showing a possible evolutionary advantage at the level of female fecundity.

Hamer’s findings, first published in Science in 1993, ignited an international media firestorm that quickly spread across newspapers, magazines, television, radio and the internet. The research was the topic of front page stories across the world, major articles in Time and Newsweek, news and talk shows including Nightline and Oprah, and even became the subject of a Broadway play.Reactions varied from cautious support from the scientific community to passionate disavowals from religious conservatives. Many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals felt the results would increase understanding and acceptance, while others feared that they might medicalize or even eliminate non-heterosexual orientations. Hamer described his work, and the range of reactions to it, in his 1994 book The Science of Desire, a New York Times Book of the Year.

The Hamer Collection includes a wide range of scientific materials including the original research protocols, sample questionnaires and participant responses, detailed statistical analyses of the data, and drafts of the research papers. His correspondence with other scientists and laypeople reveals the diverse reactions that the research evoked. Popular materials include extensive press coverage in both mainstream and LGBT periodicals. Of special interest are the materials relating to Hamer's appearance in the Colorado Supreme Court Amendment 2 trial, in which the role of biology in sexual orientation received high level judicial scrutiny.

In more recent years Hamer's research focused on related topics in human behavioral genetics, including the discovery of the “Prozac gene,” and new biomedical forms of HIV prevention. He also became a director and producer of documentary films, including the Emmy Award-winning PBS film OUT IN THE SILENCE, which examines the reactions to his marriage to his partner Joe Wilson in a small conservative town in rural Pennsylvania.

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