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Science and SocietyEMBL/EMBO/IBC-CNR Mini-Symposium

Genes and Behaviour

9 December 2005, EMBL Monterotondo (Rome)


An important and fast-growing body of knowledge already exists within modern biology that is shedding light on how genes relate to behaviour. Traditional research strategies in human behavioural genetics include studies of twins and adoptees, approaches designed to sort biological from environmental influences. In their laboratory work, biologists use selective and systematic knockout technologies to assess links between specific genotypes and phenotypes. At the same time, the discovery of DNA polymorphism has resurrected research into human genetic variation and taking samples from distinct populations that are associated with particular behaviours. Analytical methods for assessing disease-risk factors in the interactions between genes and the environment have vastly improved. Understanding these factors and their interactions could lead to major improvements in diagnostics, preventive medicine and therapeutics.

For the first part of the workshop we would like to invite two experimental biologists to give talks about their work in progress relating to the genetic basis of depression and anxiety. Two more talks will be given by social scientists, who study and reflect on the social and ethical implications of these research areas within the life sciences. An informed dialogue between experimental biologists and social scientists about the role of genes in behaviour should facilitate a more nuanced, common and comprehensive understanding across disciplinary boundaries.

The workshop will conclude with an open discussion about how to assess and interpret the genetic component in the relative risk people face throughout their lives of developing specific patterns of behaviour detrimental to their well-being. Finally, the discussion will focus on how to communicate the nature of such innate divergences without exposing our societies to excessive, counter-productive categorisations of people.



Opening remarks
Glauco P. Tocchini-Valentini, CNR
14:00-14:45 Part I – Genetics of behaviour: the state of the art
Andrew Moore, EMBO (Chair)
Nature via nurture in the mouse
Cornelius Gross, EMBL Monterotondo
14:45-15:30 Hazard, heredity and depression
Peter McGuffin, King's College London
15:30-16:00 Coffee break
16:00-16:45 Part II – Assessing current trends towards the biologisation of behaviour
Halldór Stefánsson, EMBL (Chair)
The new behavioural genetics and the sociology of susceptibility
Nikolas Rose, LSE, London
16:45-17:30 Biosociality: the genetic way to a culture of life
Karin Knorr Cetina, University of Konstanz and Chicago
Open discussion
Closing remarks
Giovanni Frazzetto, EMBL Monterotondo