7/25/2008

Scientists Isolate Three 'Violent Criminal' Genes

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Three genes may play a strong role in determining why some young men raised in rough neighborhoods or deprived families become violent criminals, while others do not, U.S. researchers reported on Monday.

One gene called MAOA that played an especially strong role has been shown in other studies to affect antisocial behavior -- and it was disturbingly common, the team at the University of North Carolina reported.

People with a particular variation of the MAOA gene called 2R were very prone to criminal and delinquent behavior, said sociology professor Guang Guo, who led the study.

"I don't want to say it is a crime gene, but 1 percent of people have it and scored very high in violence and delinquency," Guo said in a telephone interview.

His team, which studied only boys, used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a U.S. nationally representative sample of about 20,000 adolescents in grades 7 to 12. The young men in the study are interviewed in person regularly, and some give blood samples.

Guo's team constructed a "serious delinquency scale" based on some of the questions the youngsters answered.

"Nonviolent delinquency includes stealing amounts larger or smaller than $50, breaking and entering, and selling drugs," they wrote in the August issue of the American Sociological Review.

"Violent delinquency includes serious physical fighting that resulted in injuries needing medical treatment, use of weapons to get something from someone, involvement in physical fighting between groups, shooting or stabbing someone, deliberately damaging property, and pulling a knife or gun on someone."

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