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Ryan Giggs and an eye for the birds

2011 June 14
by Paul Vallely

You can blame your Grandad. If you are caught in a moment of sexual infidelity it may well just be down to you genes. German scientists working with zebra finches have discovered that this normally faithful species has aberrant members who like to put it about a bit. Darwin, whose theories of natural selection were sparked by the finches of the Galápagos, explained why the occasional male finch might do this – it increases his chances of spreading his genetic material. But why do some females have a roving beak?

It turns out that the daughters of promiscuous finches are more likely to play away too, to use a footballing metaphor. And the offspring of these females inherit the same wanderlust. Scientists in America last year suggested a possible cause: a dopamine receptor gene called DRD4. It is found in people too, which is why Ryan Giggs might look over his shoulder at either one of this grandfathers. The gene is linked to thrill-seeking potentially-addictive behaviour like alcoholism, gambling and even watching horror films. Those with liberal political views manifest it more than conservatives.

So it could be your DNA that makes you more prone to, well, getting prone. There is one catch. When the news about DRN4 broke last year it was accompanied by headlines suggesting: “It might not be your fault that you’re a cheating piece of trash”. Whatever the genes say society still presumes we should be held to account as beings possessed of free will. Life is sometimes more complicated than science allows.

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