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Genetics, alcoholism, and the social context: Wanderlust of a wounded structuralism

Moos R. Genetics, alcoholism, and the social context: Wanderlust of a wounded structuralism. Paper presented at: Australasian Professional Society on Alcohol and Other Drugs Annual Conference; 2003 Nov 1; Brisbane, Australia.

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I describe early non-shared experiences in my career that piqued my interest in and skepticism about the influence of genetic factors on human behavior. Then, I identify some basic principles about how to design studies to maximize the likelihood of observing genetic effects, such as sharing information so that clinicians taking histories and conducting psychological evaluations are fully informed about the chromosomal constitution of their subjects, keeping comparisons groups unmatched in order to take advantage of associations due to differences between individuals of varied racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, and using primitive and dichotomized measures of environmental influences in order to reduce their potential explanatory power.On a more serious note, I emphasize that it is hard to conceive of a Blueprint where structure begins with genes, when genes are subject to contextual influences, such as natural selection and mutation. The ultimate Blueprint must encompass an ongoing interplay between structure and function in which genes and context alter each other. In closing, I mention that the new science of epigenetics, the study of how environmental factors like diet and stress can lead to heritable changes of DNA, is a bold step toward a more balanced view of the role of contextual factors in the regulation of gene expression.

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