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Are Leaders Born, Made, or Epigenetically Empowered?

This week, The Economist details the efforts of investigators who aim to find the biological basis for organizational behavior in the workplace. "To do so, they will need to weave together several disparate strands of the subject — genetics, endocrinology, molecular biology, and even psychology. If that works, the resulting mixture may provide a new set of tools for the hard-pressed business manager," according to the article. Using twin studies, researchers have shown that DNA can affect everything from extroversion to salary. In his investigation of whether leaders are "born" or "made," the National University of Singapore's Richard Arvey found that "the influence of genes on leadership potential is weakest in boys brought up in rich, supportive families and strongest in those raised in harsher circumstances," according to The Economist. NUS' Song Zhaoli "gathered and analyzed DNA from 123 Singaporean couples to see if it can be matched with a host of work-related variables," such as job satisfaction; his team found that individuals with a particular variant of HTR2A were more likely to report lower negative mood and higher job satisfaction than those who had inherited a different version of the serotonin-receptor gene, The Economist reports.

However, the article notes that critics of biology-of-business research suggest that scientists conducting twin studies are confusing heritability with environmental effects. Epigenetics, they say, could play an important role in leadership capabilities and job satisfaction, among other things. Still, The Economist suggests that "management science looks set for a thorough, biology-inspired overhaul."

The Scan

Positive Framing of Genetic Studies Can Spark Mistrust Among Underrepresented Groups

Researchers in Human Genetics and Genomics Advances report that how researchers describe genomic studies may alienate potential participants.

Small Study of Gene Editing to Treat Sickle Cell Disease

In a Novartis-sponsored study in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that a CRISPR-Cas9-based treatment targeting promoters of genes encoding fetal hemoglobin could reduce disease symptoms.

Gut Microbiome Changes Appear in Infants Before They Develop Eczema, Study Finds

Researchers report in mSystems that infants experienced an enrichment in Clostridium sensu stricto 1 and Finegoldia and a depletion of Bacteroides before developing eczema.

Acute Myeloid Leukemia Treatment Specificity Enhanced With Stem Cell Editing

A study in Nature suggests epitope editing in donor stem cells prior to bone marrow transplants can stave off toxicity when targeting acute myeloid leukemia with immunotherapy.