This announcement produced a small gasp from the more theatrical-minded members of the audience, but most of the scientists in the darkened theater remained silent, waiting to hear Cooper’s next words. The white-haired scientist hadn’t expected to get much of a response in any case, but he did appreciate a good reveal.
“My team was initially not focused on the Y chromosome at all,” he said, taking a step back from his announcement. “We were instead tracking negative behaviors in society, looking for a genetic correlation. We believed that behaviors often seen as immoral may have a physical component, possibly a faulty neural junction or a misfolded protein. Given the wide degree of neural-associated proteins now linked with mental responses, it’s not that big of a leap to make.”
“And we did find a distinct genetic correlation using GWAS, a genome-wide associated screen,” he went on. Cooper clicked to the next slide, and a Manhattan plot appeared, showing data on a graph. One peak seemed far higher than all the others, nearly rising off the screen. “As you can see, we had one especially prominent hit.”
Another slide click, and it was back to the image of the Y chromosome. “This gene maps to the Y chromosome,” Cooper announced. “And deletions in this gene correlate incredibly well with violent crimes – murders, rapes, and psychopathic tendencies. Smaller missense mutations seem to match behavior that, while still negative, is not quite as devastating.”
Cooper took a deep breath as he prepared to make his most stunning announcement of the night. “Ladies and gentlemen, we believe that we have found the “soul” gene.”
There was immediately a rush of whispers and cries from the audience. Cooper had expected no less, and a minute later, the lights rose up to reveal an angry crowd on its feet.
“Excuse me, professor!” called out one angry scientist who didn’t seem excused at all. “Are you saying that the existence of this gene confers a soul upon an organism?”
Cooper spread his hands, although it did nothing to mollify the shouter. “We are stating that the lack of this gene appears to lead to profoundly negative behavior,” he clarified.
But this just led to more yells. Many of the scientists on their feet weren’t even making their complaints clear, but were merely angrily shouting and booing.
Cooper reached up and rubbed his face. He had several more slides on methods as well as another half dozen graphs of results, showing how his correlations held up across multiple populations, but he sensed that he wasn’t going to get to show these off. He had wanted to wait to release this information, had wanted to first write it up into a paper, but the University regents were anxious to be the first group to get their name in the papers.
Well, that was definitely going to happen now. Although perhaps not in the way that the regents had been expecting. More people were shouting questions, and some were surging angrily towards the stage, but Cooper kept his hand over his face.
Perhaps the Society of Women in Genetics had not been the best avenue to present this work.