Restless Genes

Restless Genes

Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is basically a molecule that encodes genetic instructions responsible for the development and general functioning of all living organisms and known viruses. It is a nucleic acid that, along carbohydrates and proteins, makes up the three main macromolecules necessary for every known form of life. Most of such molecules are helices with double stands that consist of long biopolymers composed of simpler units known as nucleotides. Every nucleotide consists of a nucleobase (adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine) noted using the letters A, C, G, and T, in addition to a backbone consisting of alternating sugars and phosphate groups with the said nucleobases, attached to the sugar molecules (Dobbs, 2013). The DNA molecule is well-suited for the storage of biological information of identical nature. Its backbone is mainly resistant to cleavage. Important to note is the fact that there is a replication of the information carried, since the two strands are separated.

More often than not, DNA has been used by scientists in exploring physical theories and laws (Smith, 2011). An example of such is the theory of elasticity and the ergodic theorem. Due to its unique properties, it has become a centre of interest for scientists and engineers, especially in the field of genetic engineering. As such, attempts have been made to try and relate the role played by DNA in generally known human tendencies and behaviors. There have been numerous attempts to relate genetics and traits that may seem only too natural to the naked eye. As such, the gene attributed to such behaviors like long distance movement, migration, or exploration that has been dubbed the ‘restless gene’ (Dobbs, 2013). One would also want to refer it to as the ‘gene for restlessness’. But to what extent is this connection true?

It has been argued that perhaps the urge to explore is brought about by a component in the genetic make up of human beings (Smith, 2011). Why else would they be the mammals that move around most, even when resources in their natural environment are in plenty? Scientists in the field of genetics have attributed this to a form of a gene known as DRD4. It plays a central role in controlling dopamine, a chemical messenger in the brain that is responsible for learning processes and reward. More specifically, restlessness and curiosity have been largely attributed to the genetic variant known as DRD4-7R. This is carried by nearly twenty percent of the world population. The distinguishable component 7R is said to be the one that makes people want to take risks, try new ideas, and explore new places as well as relationships. In a more general sense, it makes people want to embrace change, move around and just have that spirit of adventure. According to simulation studies, the liking for novelty and movement increase by the continuous actions of 7R. Important to note is that its actions are closely associated with those of ADHD (Vaughan, 2010).

Genetic studies have shown that 7R is most commonly found in populations with migratory cultures, as opposed to settled ones. In addition, it is, alongside another variant known as 2R, more frequently found in populations whose ancestral history is characterized by long distance migration. This revelation is interesting because through it, one can understand the relationship between people with a nomadic lifestyle and their genetic make-up. The 7R variant has been connected to physical fitness of nomadic people (Dobbs, 2013). This gives them an edge to survive in their way of life, unlike those without it, who tend to be weak and generally less-nourished (Vaughan, 2010).  In spite of this, arguments have been put forth to counter the claim that the 7R is indeed the adventure gene; what some people call the explorer’s gene. Specifically, Kenneth Kidd, a population and evolutionary geneticist from Yale University, thinks that this claim is an exaggeration and is, therefore, more false than true. He argues that a topic as large as exploration cannot just be explained by a single gene. He thinks that contrary to this, a group of genes could perhaps be amongst the contributing factors. He says that one might possess the said genes but cannot explore without the necessary tools and motivation.

Other genetic and evolution experts like Jim Noonan support the idea of genetics playing a role, though in a slightly different aspect. Rather than focus on a specific gene, they agree that genes that contribute to general body and part formation/development are largely responsible (Dobbs, 2013). This stems from the fact that they think the adaptability and ability of a given species would determine whether they move or migrate over long distances, or not. The ability referred to here is either physical or otherwise. In a more comprehensible way, species with better developed limbs and brains are more likely to explore than those whose features are not as expressed (Lu, 2008). Human beings possess these qualities, which make them excellent in exploration and other activities involving adventure (Pesenson, 2013).

It has also been suggested that any species will tend to posses traits once possessed by ancestors. Here, the point is that everything is hereditary. Perhaps Cook and Tupaia just inherited traits for movement tendencies. Whether this can be looked at in this general sense, or if it requires in-depth research as regards the 7R variant, is open to discussion. However, one must agree that genetics remains central in this regard. The genetic ‘signature’ contained in DNA defines all living organisms. In as much as this is true, what the article implies is indeed debatable. One cannot agree with it entirely. If it is true ‘restless’ genes are responsible for exploration, then there could be so many people exploring, or just moving around. This could be especially the case since about a quarter of the world population contains the genetic variants that have been dubbed the ‘restless genes’ (Vaughan, 2010). Contrary to this expectation, most people are relatively settled in their settlements, formal or otherwise. Those who move around do so when there is need such as business trips or to some, tourism purposes (Lyon, & Wells, 2012).   Reading the article however proved informative to a great extent. The perception on this subject was not altered much since there is a general agreement that genetics are central in defining behaviors and tendencies.  After all, it would still be right to say that exploration is triggered by genetic elements found in one’s inner genome.

In conclusion, the role of genetics as depicted in the article cannot be disputed. Anyone doing so would need more evidence to support their position. Until such is done, all have to agree that to some extent, the genetic variants discussed above play a role in making people want to explore. Just like many other traits in individuals are dictated by genes, exploration and restlessness cannot be any different. Nevertheless, it is suggested that more detailed research be carried out on this matter to ensure certainty and more convincing facts on the same.


Dobbs, D. (2013). The new age of exploration: Restless genes. National Geographic. Web. Accessed from

Lu, Y. (2008). Genetics of restless legs syndrome: Mutational analysis of candidate genes at the RLS5 locus in a German family. New York: Springer.

Lyon, S., & Wells, E. C. (2012). Global tourism: Cultural heritage and economic encounters. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press.

Pesenson, M. Z. (2013). Multiscale analysis and nonlinear dynamics: From genes to the brain. Weinheim: Wiley-VCH.

Smith, M. (2011). Phenotypic variation: Exploration and functional genomics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Vaughan, J. (2010). Genetics. Mankato, Minn: Smart Apple Media.