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Dean Hamer

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Dean Hamer
BornMay 29, 1951 (1951-05-29) (age 73)[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 for a series of popular books and films that have changed scientific and public understandings and perceptions of human sexuality and gender.

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 Trinity College Thompson History Prize, Maryland Distinguished Young Scientist Award, Ariens Kappers Award for Neurobiology, New York Times book-of-the year author, and an Emmy Award.

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] Analysis of 409 pairs of gay brothers with over 300,000 single-nucleotide polymorphism markers confirmed the Xq28 linkage by two-point and multipoint 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[13] of 493,001 individuals concluded that hundreds or thousands of genetic variants underlie same-sex sexual behavior in both sexes, but in contrast to linkage studies they found no excess of signal on Xq28 or the rest of the X chromosome. This study was questioned on account of its reliance on a dichotomous ever/never measure that lumped together predominantly heterosexual, bisexual and homosexual individuals, including those who only experimented once with a same-sex partner, possibly resulting in misleading associations to personality traits.[14]  Hamer said that the findings of the 2019 study do not reveal any biological pathways for sexual orientation, but stated he hoped it would be the first of many to come.[15]

Hamer's findings provoked extensive public reaction, often based on misunderstanding of the science, which led to his interest in explaining the data to a wide audience through a book written in collaboration with a journalist.[16]  Social science surveys have shown that research on the origins of sexual orientation has a strong positive influence on people's attitudes of acceptance and inclusion of LGBT people.[17]

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.[18] This finding has been extensively replicated and extended and its activity has been confirmed by direct brain imaging studies.[19][20]

In 2004, Hamer used data from ongoing behavioral genetics studies in his lab to explore the possibility of genetic influences on spirituality. In The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired into our Genes, he proposed that a quantitative measure of self-transcendence is partially heritable and may be correlated to a specific gene, VMAT2, involved in monamine metabolism. Hamer's speculations on the possible role of genetics in religious experience were featured in a cover story in Time magazine.

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,[21] and molecularly-engineered immunotoxins to destroy the infected cells.[12][22][23] 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[24] and vaginal use[25] and is in the initial stages of preclinical testing.[26]

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 and compel us to question and to act."[27] Their short films won multiple 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, documented the controversy that was ignited by Hamer and Wilson's wedding announcement in Wilson's conservative small hometown in Pennsylvania[28] [29] The film was supported by the Sundance Documentary Film Program and 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 and long tradition of acceptance of sexual and gender minorities. 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 won the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Documentary and the Independent Lens Audience Award on PBS[30]

In 2017, Hamer and Wilson, with Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu as producer, released Leitis in Waiting and Lady Eva, which documented the lives of transgender women in the conservative South Pacific Kingdom of Tonga.[31] This was followed in 2019 by The Rogers, about transgender men in Samoa. These films became part of a campaign to decriminalize same-sex relationships across the Pacific.

Hamer, Wilson and Wong-Kalu continued their collaboration in 2020 with the animated short film Kapaemahu, based on the hidden history of four stones on Waikiki Beach placed there as a tribute to four legendary mahu who first brought the healing arts from Tahiti to Hawaii.[32] It premiered and won the Special Jury Prize at the Tribeca Film Festival and was shortlisted for an Oscar as Best Animated Short Film at the 93rd Academy Awards. The animated film was followed by a children's book published by Kokila,[33] a PBS feature documentary,[34] a multimedia exhibition at the Bishop Museum,[35] permanent display at the Hawai'i Convention center,[36] and inclusion in new interprative signage at the Kapaemahu monument in Waikiki.[37]

The team's most recent film is Aikane, an animated short based on the Hawaiian term for intimate friends of the same sex.[38] It won two Academy Award-qualifying film festival awards and was nationally distributed by Conde Nast on the Them platform.

In 2024, Hamer initiated a multimedia community engagement and storytelling effort on the "Queer Histories of Hawai'i."[39] Funded by the Mellon Foundation, the project aims to document and memorialize gender and sexual diversity across the multicultural landscape of the Hawaiian islands.[40]

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.[41]

Scholarly influence[edit]

According to Google Scholar, Hamer's works have been cited over 27,000 times and he has an h-index of 72 as of August 2020.[42]


  • 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. S2CID 25156538.
  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. S2CID 721490.
  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). Sciencemag.org: 803a–803. doi:10.1126/science.285.5429.803a. S2CID 209529237.
  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. S2CID 206989147.
  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. S2CID 4027333.
  13. ^ Ganna, Andrea; Verweij, Karin J. H.; Nivard, Michel G.; Maier, Robert; Wedow, Robbee; Busch, Alexander S.; Abdellaoui, Abdel; Guo, Shengru; Sathirapongsasuti, J. Fah; 23andMe Research Team; Lichtenstein, Paul (August 30, 2019). "Large-scale GWAS reveals insights into the genetic architecture of same-sex sexual behavior". Science. 365 (6456): eaat7693. doi:10.1126/science.aat7693. ISSN 1095-9203. PMC 7082777. PMID 31467194.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  14. ^ Hamer, Dean; Mustanski, Brian; Sell, Randall; Sanders, Stephanie A.; Garcia, Justin R. (March 26, 2021). "Comment on "Large-scale GWAS reveals insights into the genetic architecture of same-sex sexual behavior"". Science. 371 (6536): eaba2941. doi:10.1126/science.aba2941. ISSN 1095-9203. PMID 33766855. S2CID 232357681.
  15. ^ Reardon, Sara (August 29, 2019). "Massive Study Finds No Single Genetic Cause of Same-Sex Sexual Behavior". Scientific American. Retrieved August 4, 2020.
  16. ^ Hamer, Dean (1994). The Science of Desire. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-0671887247.
  17. ^ "Going Beyond the Lab". The Scientist Magazine®. Retrieved May 29, 2021.
  18. ^ 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. S2CID 35503987.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ Hamer D (October 2002). "Genetics. Rethinking behavior genetics". Science. 298 (5591): 71–2. doi:10.1126/science.1077582. PMID 12364769. S2CID 142915325.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ 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.
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ "Qwaves | Films and Impact Campaign focusing on the Pacific". Qwaves | Social issue films, animation & impact campaigns from Emmy award winning filmmakers Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson. Retrieved January 9, 2024.
  28. ^ Hamer, Dean; Wilson, Joe (August 5, 2009), Out in the Silence (Documentary, Comedy, Family), C. J. Bills, Diane Granley, Linda Henderson, qWaves.com, retrieved January 9, 2024
  29. ^ "Out in the Silence | Home". legacy.wpsu.org. Retrieved January 9, 2024.
  30. ^ "Home". Kumu Hina. Retrieved January 9, 2024.
  31. ^ "Leitis in Waiting". Leitis in Waiting. Retrieved January 9, 2024.
  32. ^ "Home". The Healer Stones of Kapaemahu. Retrieved January 9, 2024.
  33. ^ "Kapaemahu by Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Dean Hamer, Joe Wilson: 9780593530061 | PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books". PenguinRandomhouse.com. Retrieved January 9, 2024.
  34. ^ Pacific Heartbeat | The Healer Stones of Kapaemahu | Season 11 | PBS, retrieved January 9, 2024
  35. ^ "THE HEALER STONES OF KAPAEMAHU - Bishop Museum". February 2, 2022. Retrieved January 9, 2024.
  36. ^ Dower, Linsey (February 17, 2023). "Convention center unveils Hawaiian cultural exhibits". Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Retrieved January 9, 2024.
  37. ^ "Honolulu tells story of healers with dual male and female spirit through new plaque in Waikiki". AP News. October 25, 2023. Retrieved January 9, 2024.
  38. ^ "Aikane Film". Qwaves | Social issue films, animation & impact campaigns from Emmy award winning filmmakers Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson. Retrieved January 9, 2024.
  39. ^ "Queer Histories of Hawai'i". Queer Histories of Hawai'i. Retrieved January 9, 2024.
  40. ^ "Mellon Foundation". www.mellon.org. Retrieved January 9, 2024.
  41. ^ 71,139036,00.html
  42. ^ "Dean Hamer - Google Scholar". scholar.google.com. Retrieved August 27, 2020.

External links[edit]