Risk-tak­ing is in the genes

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HIGH risk-tak­ers are ge­net­i­cally pre­dis­posed to smoke, drink and speed, Ade­laide re­searchers have helped dis­cover in an in­ter­na­tional study of more than a mil­lion peo­ple.

The study found 124 DNA vari­ants that also made peo­ple more will­ing to take risks such as long-shot fi­nan­cial in­vest­ments and risky bed­room be­hav­iours.

Risk-tak­ing be­hav­iour was also ge­net­i­cally as­so­ci­ated with con­di­tions in­clud­ing ADHD, bipo­lar dis­or­der and schizophre­nia. UniSA Pro­fes­sor Elina Hyp­po­nen, pic­tured, who was part of the re­search team, said it con­trib­uted to un­der­stand­ing of how we be­have “and to what ex­tent we can or can't really af­fect that”. Prof Hyp­po­nen, also direc­tor of the Aus­tralian Cen­tre for Pre­ci­sion Health at SAHMRI, said: “It's in­ter­est­ing to know that some of the ways, or the man­ner in which we re­spond to risky sit­u­a­tions, is slightly be­yond our own con­trol and re­flec­tive of how our ge­netic back­ground has been built up.”

But she hoped risk-tak­ers and rule-break­ers would not use genes as an ex­cuse in court.

“I think those kinds of ex­am­ples are al­ready there, where peo­ple are us­ing their ge­net­ics to try to get re­duced sen­tences, but I don't be­lieve that should let us get away from hav­ing a re­spon­si­bil­ity for our ac­tions,” she said.

“It is just that some peo­ple need to be more mind­ful with re­spect to their ten­den­cies to re­spond to a stim­u­lus in a cer­tain man­ner, com­pared to oth­ers.”

Dr Hyp­po­nen is also a mem­ber of the So­cial Sci­ence Ge­netic As­so­ci­a­tion Con­sor­tium, an in­ter­na­tional re­search ef­fort in­ves­ti­gat­ing the in­flu­ence of ge­net­ics on hu­man be­hav­iour and well­be­ing, which re­cently pub­lished on the ge­netic back­ground un­der­ly­ing obe­sity.

“It is very clear that some peo­ple have a stronger ge­netic pre­dis­po­si­tion to be­ing obese or over­weight but it doesn't mean that there is no per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity, if re­spon­si­bil­ity is the right word, or that peo­ple couldn't do any­thing about it,” Dr Hyp­po­nen said.

“It just means that for some peo­ple it's much harder to main­tain a nor­mal body weight than it is for oth­ers.”

In the risky be­hav­iour study, lead au­thor As­sis­tant Pro­fes­sor Jonathan Beauchamp from the Univer­sity of Toronto said ev­i­dence of shared ge­netic in­flu­ences ex­tended to many spe­cific risky be­hav­iours such as speed­ing, drink­ing and tobacco and cannabis con­sump­tion.

The re­search is pub­lished to­day in the jour­nal Na­ture Ge­net­ics.

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