The Homer Simpson Gene Shuts Down Part Of The Brain
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When someone tries talking about a link between genetics and intelligence, you can expect disaster will follow. Even leaving aside the extra thorny subject of race and intelligence, any discussion of intelligence genes spells trouble. For example there's the question of, if we do find genes that control intelligence, what do we do with that info?
Do we try to mass produce babies using the smart genetic material? We tried that, actually, and it didn't turn out very well. Or do we stop the unintelligent people from breeding altogether? We tried that too, till we wised up and realized the government in no way has the authority to strip people of their rights like that.
Recent science, however, offers another option. If we find a gene that saps people's intelligence, maybe we can disable it to make people smarter. A decade ago, scientists managed just that with mice. They identified a gene that serves some social functions but mostly shuts off the CA2 region of the brain. By injecting the mice with science juice, researchers were able to delete the gene and return full function to the brain, with no apparent ill effects.
The gene has an official name, connected with the RGS14 protein it codes, but the scientists informally dubbed it the Homer Simpson gene. This is appropriate, not just because Homer is known for his limited intellect but because of the cause of his limitation. Part of his brain is disabled, thanks to a crayon stuck in there. The crayon can be removed, but Homer prefers to leave it in.
Separately, the show has offered a genetic explanation for Homer's condition. The fictional version of the Simpson gene gradually saps the intelligence of all who possess it, dooming them to a life of underachievement—but it is only present in male members of the family, since it sits on the Y chromosome. Like all good Simpsons jokes, the Simpson gene and the crayon each served the immediate story and then were forgotten by the show, leading to much tooth gnashing from nerds trying to map the official Simpsons canon.
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Top image: Fox