Sunday, December 26, 2010

A 'violent gene' in some Finnish men?

LiveScience reports that a 'violent gene' has been discovered . . . but there's a twist to the tale.

The mutation, which is found only in Finnish populations, shows up three times more often in violent criminal offenders than in psychologically healthy Finns, the study found. However, the researchers caution that the mutation itself does not cause impulsivity, but may play a role along with factors like gender, alcohol consumption and stress.

"We've known that impulsivity is strongly influenced genetically, but here's a severe genetic variant that does contribute to it," study author David Goldman, a geneticist at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), told LiveScience.

. . .

In the current study, researchers recruited 96 Finnish men who were in jail for violent offenses and 96 psychologically healthy Finnish men who were not incarcerated. Finns were chosen for the study, because the Finnish population is more isolated than other populations and therefore hosts a less-diverse array of genetic mutations.

Goldman and his colleagues analyzed each man's genome, focusing on 14 genes known to be related to the function of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. They found a mutation on a gene called HTR2B was associated with impulsive, violent behavior.

. . .

Seventeen of the 96 inmates had the gene mutation, a rate three times that of the non-incarcerated participants. On average, the prisoners had committed five violent crimes apiece, 94 percent of which occurred under the influence of alcohol. The crimes were not premeditated and were usually an overreaction to a minor incident, the researchers report. The study also revealed that 70 percent of participants with the mutation had displayed suicidal behavior.

There's more at the link.

I find it particularly interesting and intriguing that this genetic mutation has been found only in Finnish men. It may shed new light on a phenomenon from Viking times. The Vikings were Northmen, from what is today Scandinavia, comprising (from west to east) Norway, Sweden and Finland. Some Vikings were known as 'berserkers', men who "are reported in the Old Norse literature to have fought in a nearly uncontrollable, trance-like fury, a characteristic which later gave rise to the English word berserk."

Could it be that the 'berserkers' of old included men who carried this genetic mutation? If we could find the graves of such men, and conduct DNA analysis of their remains, it might explain much about what made them fight like that. Certainly, the geographic restriction of the genetic mutation to an area from which many Vikings came is highly suggestive of a link.



Erik said...

Not quite correct. Vikings came from Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Finland was settled by Vikings, and there were lots of trade going on, but there were no "tue" Vikings there, the Finnish tribes at the time has a different origin.

It's not implausible that some people from Finland did join in Viking travels, and might even have fought with them as Vikings, but that's probably too few to have been noticed to the degree that berserkers were known. Not to mention that Vikings in Sweden travelled mainly eastwards, so the chance of fighters from Finland showing up in Icelandic tales is even less likely.

Because of the close history of Sweden and Finland it's not unlikely that any genes from Swedish Vikings show up in Finland, but if there is a "berserker gene", it should also show up in the rest of Scandinavia and Iceland. Or maybe they havent looked there yet?

I've always heard it described, but I cant find a source for it, that the berserkers were among the Norwegian Vikings. Berserkers seem to show up in areas where they were, but not in other places.

Billll said...

The research was done, as I understand it, by Finnish researchers in Finland. If they need more examples of violent drunks, there's always the cowboy bars in the U.S.

Rova said...

Hmmm. So there could be origin for "Going Medieval" after all - and it could shed a bit of light on why family feuds were settled with the puukko and not the gun, even into the early 20th Century, if I recall correctly.

Toastrider said...

The Finns had quite the reputation during the Thirty Years War, too. Their battle cry being simply 'Hack them down!' None of that 'God with us' stuff, just 'let's go chop 'em up!'