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Boys May Feel a Genetic Pull Toward Gangs
Date:6/17/2009

Presence of a 'warrior gene' variant ups violence inclination, study finds

WEDNESDAY, June 17 (HealthDay News) -- Bad neighborhoods and lack of opportunity are usually blamed for boys joining violent street gangs. But a new study finds that the urge to join gangs might lie, at least in part, in their genes.

Boys who have a variant of the gene monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) -- otherwise known as the "warrior gene" -- are not only more likely to be in gangs than boys without the variant, but they tend to be among the most violent members.

Boys with the MAOA variant are also more likely to get into fights and use weapons, according to the study.

Though the drive to join gangs is typically blamed on socioeconomic and environmental factors, from poverty to unstable families to boys' quest for a sense of belonging, the study found that joining gangs also has a genetic underpinning.

"While gangs typically have been regarded as a sociological phenomenon, our investigation shows that variants of a specific MAOA gene, known as a 'low-activity 3-repeat allele,' play a significant role," the study's lead author, Kevin M. Beaver, a biosocial criminologist at Florida State University's College of Criminology and Criminal Justice, said in a university news release.

"Previous research has linked low-activity MAOA variants to a wide range of antisocial, even violent, behavior, but our study confirms that these variants can predict gang membership," Beaver said. "Moreover, we found that variants of this gene could distinguish gang members who were markedly more likely to behave violently and use weapons from members who were less likely to do either."

The study is available in the online edition of Comprehensive Psychiatry.

For their research, Beaver and his colleagues analyzed DNA and lifestyle data from more than 2,500 teens who participated in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescen
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