Is crime in the blood - the case of the mean genes.
This article by Gareth Huw Davies was first published Radio Times, May 1996.
Dutch scientist Dr Han Brunner was recently approached by a lady terrified of men behaving badly in her family. There seemed to be something "in the blood" and she feared that if she gave birth to a son, he too would grow up a violent, tempestuous chip off the old block. With the menfolk's cooperation Dr Brunner peeled away the machismo and peered into their irreducible genetic essence. He made a startling discovery. One young man was found to have an anomaly in his DNA, the chemical code in the shape of a twisted ladder found in every cell. Just one letter wrong in three thousand million, but that was enough. That mutation changed an enzyme, which altered the chemistry of the brain, which messed up the way the nerves communicate with one other and pushed this man towards the threshold of rage. Had Brunner discovered the "gene for crime"?
Two American attorneys, Charles Taylor and Daniel Summer, certainly thought so. Their client Stephen Mobley is on Death Row in Georgia, convicted of shooting a shopkeeper in the back during a robbery. Taylor and Summer believed they could save Mobley from the electric chair if they could call science in evidence and show that his appalling criminality was gene-driven, that in some way he wasn't altogether responsible for his actions. They even harboured hopes that any inborn defect might be treated and rectified, just as some genetically transmitted diseases like haemophilia and schizophrenia can be treated.
But the case hit a snag. If one son is, literally, a natural born killer, does this brand the rest of the family's menfolk as criminals-in-waiting? Mobley's father did not wait to find out. He sacked the attorneys and, at the time of writing, Mobley is still on Death Row, his genes untested.
This much he will concede. "The science behind the Brunner findings is watertight. There is quite good evidence that the Dutch family's highly anti-social behaviour is associated with a single gene mutation that they carry. I am convinced there are genes that pre-dispose some people towards criminal behaviour." However, it's a long way to the popular press's seductive headline "gene for crime." Then, quite astonishingly, Professor Jones seems to dissent. "Yes, there is a gene for crime. It's the gene that leads the very early embryo, which is nearly always female, into the path of being male. It's the male gene. Almost all criminals are male. That shows what happens if you pursue this argument to its logical conclusion."