Dean Hamer

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Dean Hamer
Hamer, dean.jpg
BornMay 29, 1951 (1951-05-29) (age 69)[citation needed]
Alma materHarvard Medical School
Known forXq28, God gene Out in the Silence
Scientific career
FieldsGenetics, documentary film
InstitutionsNational Institutes of Health, Sundance Institute

Dean Hamer (/ˈhmər/; born May 29, 1951) is an American geneticist, author, and filmmaker. He is known for his research on the role of genetics in sexual orientation and human behavior, contributions to biotechnology and HIV/AIDS prevention, and popular books and documentaries on a wide range of topics.

Education and career[edit]

Born in Montclair, New Jersey, Hamer obtained his BA at Trinity College, CT, and his PhD from Harvard Medical School.[1] He was an independent researcher at the National Institutes of Health for 35 years, where he was the Chief of 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, the Ariens Kappers Award for Neurobiology, an Emmy Award, and New York Times author of the year.

Biotechnology research[edit]

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

At NIH, Hamerʻs lab initially 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 and a useful method for regulating therapeutic protein production.

Human sexual orientation and behavior genetics[edit]

In the 1990s Hamer began studies on the genetics of human behavior, which led to the first molecular evidence for genes that influence human sexual orientation. His research group's first paper, published in Science in 1993, reported 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 of DNA samples from these families showed that gay brothers had an increased probability of sharing polymorphic markers on the subtelomeric region of the long arm of the X chromosome, Xq28, providing statistically significant evidence for linkage to the sexual orientation phenotype.[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 suggested that Xq28 has a significant but not exclusive effect.[7][8][9] Subsequently, a genomewide scan by Hamerʻs group revealed additional regions on autosomes that were moderately linked to male sexual orientation.[10]

Hamer's results were robustly replicated in 2012 in a large, comprehensive multi-center genetic linkage study of male sexual orientation conducted by several independent groups of researchers.[11][12] 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." In August 2019, a genome-wide association study of 493,001 individuals concluded that hundreds or thousands of genetic variants underlie homosexual behavior in both sexes, with 5 variants in particular being significantly associated. Two of these genetic markers sit close to genes linked to sex hormones and to smell—both factors that may play a role in sexual attraction. But taken together, these five markers explained less than 1 percent of the differences in sexual activity among people in the study. Reserchers looked at the overall genetic similarity and the genetics seemed to account for between 8 and 25 percent of the behavior. The rest was presumably a result of environmental or other biological influences They stated that in contrast to linkage studies that found substantial association of sexual orientation with variants on the X-chromosome, they found no excess of signal (and no individual genome-wide significant variants) on Xq28 or the rest of the X chromosome. But Hamer, disagreed because his study analysed the genomes of 40 pairs of gay brothers, looked exclusively at people who identified as homosexual. He saw the new paper as an analysis of risky behavior or openness to experience, noting that participants who engaged in at least one same-sex experience were also more likely to report having smoked marijuana and having more sexual partners overall. Hamer said that the findings do not reveal any biological pathways for sexual orientation, he added, "I'm glad they did it and did a big study, but it doesn’t point us where to look."[13]

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.[14] This finding has been extensively replicated and extended and its activity has been confirmed by direct brain imaging studies.[15][16]

HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention[edit]

Hamer's lab developed several biotechnological strategies to treat and reduce the transmission of HIV/AIDS. As a means to reduce the latent pools of virus responsible for viral persistence, they discovered novel chemical agent to induce integrated virus,[17][17] and molecularly-engineered immunotoxins to destroy the infected cells.[12][18][19] They also collaborated with Osel, Inc. on 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 was shown to be applicable to both rectal[20] and vaginal use[21] and is in the initial stages of preclinical testing.[22]

God gene hypothesis[edit]

The God gene hypothesis has been proposed by Hamer in the 2004 book called The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired into our Genes. It proposes that human spirituality is influenced by heredity and that a specific gene, called vesicular monoamine transporter 2 (VMAT2), predisposes humans towards spiritual or mystic experiences.[23]

The God gene hypothesis is based on a combination of behavioral genetic, neurobiological and psychological studies.[24] The major arguments of the hypothesis are: (1) spirituality can be quantified by psychometric measurements; (2) the underlying tendency to spirituality is partially heritable; (3) part of this heritability can be attributed to the gene VMAT2; (4) this gene acts by altering monoamine levels; and (5) spirituality provides an evolutionary advantage by providing individuals with an innate sense of optimism. Hamerʻs speculations on the possible role of genetics in religious experience were featured in a cover story in Time magazine.

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.[citation needed]

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 moved to Hawaiʻi to begin a series of films about Pacific Islander lives and voices. Their feature documentary Kumu Hina, about transgender native Hawaiian teacher and cultural icon Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, was supported by ITVS, Pacific Islanders in Communications and the Ford Foundation and premiered as the closing night film in the Hawaii International Film Festival in 2014. In 2015, it was nationally broadcast on PBS, where it won the Independent Lens Audience Award. An educational children's version of the film, A Place in the Middle, premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival for Kids and is featured on PBS learning media.

In 2017, Hamer and Wilson released Leitis in Waiting, which documents the lives of transgender women in Tonga. It was co-produced by Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu.

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, and has been profiled in Time magazine.[25]


  • 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. ^ Dr. Dean Hamer Archived October 3, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, The Great Lecture Library. Accessed October 2, 2015. "Dr. Dean Hamer was born in Montclair, N.J."
  2. ^ Hamer D.H.; Davoli D.; Thomas C.A., Jr; Fareed G.C. (1977). "Simian virus 40 carrying an E. coli suppressor gene". J. Mol. Biol. 112 (2): 155–182. doi:10.1016/s0022-2836(77)80137-x. PMID 195060.
  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. Annu. Rev. Biochem. 55: 913‑951, 1986.
  5. ^ Furst P.; Hu S.; Hackett R.; Hamer D.H. (1988). "Copper activates metallothinonein gene expression by altering the conformation of a specific DNA binding protein". Cell. 55 (4): 705–717. doi:10.1016/0092-8674(88)90229-2. PMID 3052856.
  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. Bibcode:1993Sci...261..321H. 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. Bibcode:1999Sci...284..665R. doi:10.1126/science.284.5414.665. PMID 10213693.
  9. ^ Hamer, D. H. (August 6, 1999). "Genetics and Male Sexual Orientation". Science. 285 (5429): 803a–803. doi:10.1126/science.285.5429.803a.
  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. ^ a b Sanders, A. R.; Martin, E. R.; Beecham, G. W.; Guo, S; Dawood, K; Rieger, G; Badner, J. A.; Gershon, E. S.; Krishnappa, R. S.; Kolundzija, A. B.; Duan, J; Gejman, P. V.; Bailey, J. M. (2015). "Genome-wide scan demonstrates significant linkage for male sexual orientation". Psychological Medicine. 45 (7): 1379–88. doi:10.1017/S0033291714002451. PMID 25399360.
  13. ^ Reardon, Sara (August 29, 2019). "Massive Study Finds No Single Genetic Cause of Same-Sex Sexual Behavior". Scientific American. Retrieved August 4, 2020.
  14. ^ 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. Bibcode:1996Sci...274.1527L. doi:10.1126/science.274.5292.1527. PMID 8929413.
  15. ^ 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. PMC 3513226. PMID 23226060.
  16. ^ Hamer D (October 2002). "Genetics. Rethinking behavior genetics". Science. 298 (5591): 71–2. doi:10.1126/science.1077582. PMID 12364769.
  17. ^ a b Hamer, D. H.; Bocklandt, S; McHugh, L; Chun, T. W.; Blumberg, P. M.; Sigano, D. M.; Marquez, V. E. (2003). "Rational design of drugs that induce human immunodeficiency virus replication". Journal of Virology. 77 (19): 10227–36. doi:10.1128/jvi.77.19.10227-10236.2003. PMC 228450. PMID 12970407.
  18. ^ Hamer, D. H. (2004). "Can HIV be Cured? Mechanisms of HIV persistence and strategies to combat it". Current HIV Research. 2 (2): 99–111. doi:10.2174/1570162043484915. PMID 15078175.
  19. ^ Brooks, D. G.; Hamer, D. H.; Arlen, P. A.; Gao, L; Bristol, G; Kitchen, C. M.; Berger, E. A.; Zack, J. A. (2003). "Molecular characterization, reactivation, and depletion of latent HIV". Immunity. 19 (3): 413–23. doi:10.1016/s1074-7613(03)00236-x. PMID 14499116.
  20. ^ 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. Bibcode:2005PNAS..10211993R. doi:10.1073/pnas.0504881102. PMC 1189328. PMID 16040799.
  21. ^ 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): 648–57. doi:10.1038/mi.2011.30. PMC 3433722. PMID 21734653.
  22. ^ Brichacek, B; Lagenaur, L. A.; Lee, P. P.; Venzon, D; Hamer, D. H. (2013). "In vivo evaluation of safety and toxicity of a Lactobacillus jensenii producing modified cyanovirin-N in a rhesus macaque vaginal challenge model". PLoS ONE. 8 (11): e78817. Bibcode:2013PLoSO...878817B. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0078817. PMC 3827103. PMID 24265721.
  23. ^ Silveira, Linda A. (March 20, 2008). "Experimenting with Spirituality: Analyzing The God Gene in a Nonmajors Laboratory Course". CBE: Life Sciences Education. 7 (1): 132–145. doi:10.1187/cbe.07-05-0029. ISSN 1931-7913. PMC 2262126. PMID 18316816.
  24. ^ Hamer, Dean (2005). The God Gene: How Faith Is Hardwired Into Our Genes. Anchor Books. ISBN 0-385-72031-9.
  25. ^ 71,139036,00.html

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