Dean Hamer

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Dean Hamer
Born May 29, 1951
Montclair, New Jersey, U.S.
Nationality U.S.
Fields Genetics, documentary film
Institutions National Institutes of Health, Sundance Institute
Known for Xq28, Out in the Silence

Dean Hamer (/ˈhmər/;[1] born 1951) is an American geneticist, author, and filmmaker. He is known for his contributions to biotechnology and AIDS prevention, his research on the genetics of human behavior especially sexual orientation, and his popular books and documentaries on a wide range of topics.

Education and career[edit]

Hamer obtained his BA at Trinity College, CT, and his PhD from Harvard Medical School. He was an independent researcher at the National Institutes of Health for 35 years, where he directed the Gene Structure and Regulation Section at the U.S. National Cancer Institute; upon retirement in 2011 he was designated Scientist Emeritus. Hamer has won numerous awards including the Maryland Distinguished Young Scientist Award and the Ariens Kappers Award for Neurobiology.

Biotechnology and gene regulation research[edit]

As a graduate student at Harvard Medical School, Hamer invented the first method for introducing new genes into animal cells using SV40 vectors.[2] This approach was subsequently used to produce a variety of biomedical products[3] including human growth hormone and a vaccine for Hepatitis B. This research resulted in 4 US patents.

At NIH, Hamerʻs lab focused on the metallothionein gene system.[4] They elucidated the mechanism of induction of yeast metallothionein by copper ions,[5] one of the first eukaryotic gene regulatory systems to be understood at the molecular level.

Human behavior genetics[edit]

In the 1990s Hamer began studies of the role of genes in human behavior. In 1993 he published a paper in Science reporting that the maternal but not paternal male relatives of gay men had increased rates of same-sex orientation, suggesting the possibility of sex-linked transmission in a portion of the population. A genetic linkage analysis showed that gay brothers in these families had an increased probability of sharing DNA markers on the subtelomeric region of the long arm of the X chromosome, Xq28, providing the first direct molecular evidence for genes that influence human sexual orientation.[6] This finding was replicated in two other studies in the United States whereas a study in Canada found contrary results; meta-analysis of all data available at that time indicated Xq28 has a significant but not exclusive effect.[7][8][9] Subsequently, a genomewide scan by Hamerʻs group revealed several additional regions on autosomes that were moderately linked to male sexual orientation.[10]

Hamer's genetic linkage results were robustly replicated in a large, comprehensive multi-center genetic linkage study of male sexual orientation by an independent group of researchers as reported at the American Society of Human Genetics in 2012.[11] The study population included 409 independent pairs of gay brothers, who were analyzed with over 300,000 single-nucleotide polymorphism markers, and confirmed the Xq28 linkage by two-point and multipoint (MERLIN) LOD score mapping. Significant linkage was also detected in the pericentromeric region of chromosome 8, overlapping with one of the regions detected in the Hamer labʻs previous genomewide study. The authors concluded that "our findings, taken in context with previous work, suggest that genetic variation in each of these regions contributes to development of the important psychological trait of male sexual orientation."

Hamer and colleagues also investigated the genetic roots of anxiety and found that a promoter region polymorphism in the gene for the serotonin transporter, which is the target of antidepressant drugs such as Prozac, is associated with mood and personality.[12] This finding has been extensively replicated and extended [13] and its activity has been confirmed by direct brain imaging studies.[14] Hamerʻs speculations on the possible role of genetics in religious experience were featured in a cover story in Time magazine.

HIV/AIDS prevention[edit]

Hamer's lab collaborated with Osel, Inc. to develop a novel live microbial microbicide approach to HIV/AIDS prevention. By genetically engineering normal vaginal bacteria to produce a potent anti-HIV peptide, significant protection against viral infection was provided in a durable and obtainable fashion for up to one month. The methodology is applicable for both rectal[15] and vaginal use.[16]

Scholarly Influence[edit]

According to Google Scholar, Hamer's works have been cited over 19,000 times and he has an h-index of 62.

Films and media[edit]

Hamer turned to documentary filmmaking to address complex scientific and social issues often overlooked by the mainstream media. In 2005, he and partner Joe Wilson formed Qwaves with the mission of producing "insightful and provocative films that emanate from the voices of those on the outside, that incite us to abandon our comfortable role as spectators, and that compel us to question and to act." Their films won several awards including winner of the PBS Independent Lens Shorts Festival and Seeds of Tolerance Award.

OUT IN THE SILENCE, the first feature film from Qwaves, was supported by the Sundance Documentary Film Program and premiered at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival at Lincoln Center. It was broadcast on PBS where it won an Emmy Award for achievement in documentary. The Out in the Silence Youth Activism Award was initiated in 2011 to highlight the contributions of young people to achieving respect, inclusion and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

In 2011, Hamer and Wilson began work on a feature documentary about a transgender native Hawaiian teacher and cultural icon, KUMU HINA. This film is supported by ITVS and Pacific Islanders in Communications.

Hamer is a frequent guest on TV documentaries and news shows including Good Morning America, Nightline and The Oprah Winfrey Show. He is featured in the Barbara Walters' special Heaven and Bill Maher documentary Religulous.


Hamer has published a number of popular science books that are aimed at a general readership and have been favorably reviewed in the New York Times, New York Review of Books, and Time magazine.

  • The Science of Desire: The Search for the Gay Gene and the Biology of Behavior (Simon and Schuster, 1994) ISBN 0-684-80446-8
  • Living with Our Genes: Why They Matter More Than You Think with Peter Copeland (Anchor, 1999) ISBN 0-385-48584-0
  • The God Gene: How Faith Is Hardwired into our Genes (Doubleday, 2004) ISBN 0-385-50058-0

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Interview of Dean Hamer
  2. ^ Hamer, D.H., Davoli, D., Thomas, C.A., Jr. and Fareed, G.C.: Simian virus 40 carrying an E. coli suppressor gene. J. Mol. Biol. 112: 155‑182, 1977.
  3. ^ Hamer, D.H.: Simian Virus 40 as a cloning vehicle in mammalian cells. In Schultz, Jr. and Brada, Z. (Eds.): Genetic Manipulation as It Affects the Cancer Problem. Academic Press, New York, N.Y., 1977, pp. 37‑44.
  4. ^ Hamer, D.H.: Metallothionein. Ann. Rev. Biochem. 55: 913‑951, 1986.
  5. ^ Furst, P., Hu, S., Hackett, R. and Hamer, D.H.: Copper activates metallothinonein gene expression by altering the conformation of a specific DNA binding protein. Cell 55: 705–717, 1988.
  6. ^ Hamer DH, Hu S, Magnuson VL, Hu N, Pattatucci AM (July 1993). "A linkage between DNA markers on the X chromosome and male sexual orientation". Science 261 (5119): 321–7. doi:10.1126/science.8332896. PMID 8332896. 
  7. ^ Hu S, Pattatucci AM, Patterson C et al. (November 1995). "Linkage between sexual orientation and chromosome Xq28 in males but not in females". Nat. Genet. 11 (3): 248–56. doi:10.1038/ng1195-248. PMID 7581447. 
  8. ^ Rice G, Anderson C, Risch N, Ebers G (April 1999). "Male homosexuality: absence of linkage to microsatellite markers at Xq28". Science 284 (5414): 665–7. doi:10.1126/science.284.5414.665. PMID 10213693. 
  9. ^ "Genetics and Male Sexual Orientation". 1999-08-06. Retrieved 2013-11-02. 
  10. ^ Mustanski BS, Dupree MG, Nievergelt CM, Bocklandt S, Schork NJ, Hamer DH (March 2005). "A genomewide scan of male sexual orientation". Hum. Genet. 116 (4): 272–8. doi:10.1007/s00439-004-1241-4. PMID 15645181. 
  11. ^ Genome-wide linkage scan of male sexual orientation. A. R. Sanders, K. Dawood, G. Rieger, J. A. Badner, E. S. Gershon, R. S. Krishnappa, A. B. Kolundzija, S. Guo, G. W. Beecham, E. R. Martin, J.M. Bailey8, Abstract 1957T
  12. ^ Lesch KP, Bengel D, Heils A et al. (November 1996). "Association of anxiety-related traits with a polymorphism in the serotonin transporter gene regulatory region". Science 274 (5292): 1527–31. doi:10.1126/science.274.5292.1527. PMID 8929413. 
  13. ^ Kenna GA, Roder-Hanna N, Leggio L, Zywiak WH, Clifford J, Edwards S et al. (2012) Association of the 5-HTT gene-linked promoter region (5-HTTLPR) polymorphism with psychiatric disorders: review of psychopathology and pharmacotherapy. Pharmgenomics Pers Med 5 ():19-35. doi:10.2147/PGPM.S23462 DOI:10.2147/PGPM.S23462 PMID 23226060
  14. ^ Hamer D (October 2002). "Genetics. Rethinking behavior genetics". Science 298 (5591): 71–2. doi:10.1126/science.1077582. PMID 12364769. 
  15. ^ Rao S, Hu S, McHugh L et al. (August 2005). "Toward a live microbial microbicide for HIV: commensal bacteria secreting an HIV fusion inhibitor peptide". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 102 (34): 11993–8. doi:10.1073/pnas.0504881102. PMC 1189328. PMID 16040799. 
  16. ^ Lagenaur LA, Sanders-Beer BE, Brichacek B, Pal R, Liu X, Liu Y et al. (2011). "Prevention of vaginal SHIV transmission in macaques by a live recombinant Lactobacillus.". Mucosal Immunol 4 (6). doi:10.1038/mi.2011.30. PMID 21734653. 

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