NIMH director Thomas R. Insel, M.D.
The recent twins study led by Dr. Joachim Hallmayer and Neil Risch, Ph.D., has grabbed the attention of the world's media and shaken the "autism is genetic" mindset that has dominated autism research for many years. The reaction to the study by the autism is primarily genetic research establishment has been quick and fearful. Within just a few days attempts were underway to diminish the study design and the outcomes of the study. Portraying the study as controversial when it is anything but is the most obvious sign of desperation by the autism is genetic establishment.
Such efforts should be taken with a huge grain of salt and the words of Dr. Insel remembered: the autism twins study results are "in line with other recent observations supporting both environmental and genetic contributions to ASD, with the environmental factors likely prenatal and the genetic factors highly complex and sometimes not inherited."
I agree that we are seeing the beginnings of a sea-change in terms of the direction that autism research is/will be taking. Alongside research into other conditions including ADHD and schizophrenia, the notion of a universal 'gene' (or genes) for this, that or the other is fading fast with a realisation that one gene does not equal one characteristic, behaviour or anything else, but rather their functions are as diverse as the people who hold them are themselves. Taken alongside the work on CNVs and de novo SNPs in relation to autism, I would like to think that some of that valuable research money can now be channelled into looking at gene - environment interactions (emphasis on the environment, and in particular the 'chemical soup' we are surrounded by in these modern times) - which I think is what Insel is hinting at.
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