It is 1963 and I am feeling a special kind of excitement. I am a young teenager and my folks are loading the family station wagon for an all-night trip across three states to see our relatives in Ohio. Fast forward fifty-plus years; this time it is December 2021 and I am taking my first “post pandemic” trip to Zagreb, Croatia. Even though the time and destination are different, I am feeling that same kind of excitement.
What is it that causes this elation in some of us as we start packing a suitcase? My name is Steve Fuller, and as your next president, I’m pleased to see what we can discover together.
Perhaps the answer can be found in science and evolutionary history. It is estimated that in 99% of modern man’s existence, we lived as nomads, or we might say, travelers. We were always on the move, living as hunter-gatherers. Physically we looked basically as we do today. But something happened approximately 10,000 years ago that changed everything. That was the introduction of agriculture. Man could grow crops such as wheat and barley in quantities and qualities as never before. But there was a significant trade-off. If man were to grow those crops, he had to stay in one place to tend to his bounty. This wandering lifestyle was coming to an end. Man started living in settlements. Gradually these human communities became villages, the villages became towns and towns to cities. After many millennia, large numbers of man ceased a nomadic existence.
Today, however, many still have that urge to wander. They will travel by plane, train, boat, or automobile to the next city, or the other side of the world. They cannot wait to get out of town and move on to the next adventure. At the same time, some are more than happy to stay at home and never venture far from their living room sofa. According to scientists 20% of the population have a variant of the DRD4 gene, and anyone who has this 7R variant has a predisposition toward increased restlessness and curiosity. Commentators have called this variant the “travel gene.” Studies have shown the presence of 7R makes people more likely to explore new places, take risks, and embrace movement, change, and adventure. Perhaps more surprising, studies in animals imitating 7R activity, show it raises their taste for movement and novelty as well.
According to University of California scientist Chuansheng Chen, the presence of the 7R variant is far more common in modern migratory cultures than in settled ones. An- other scientist at Kaplan University states that a greater proportion of the DRD4-7R gene is found in South and North Americans, whose European ancestors came to the new world to settle. It is logical to assume that these descendants from a long line of people who migrated and sought the unknown would be more likely to possess the genetic variant.
As appealing and logical as these studies might appear, we still have to step back and take a balanced view of the findings. When we possess 20,000 to 25,000 genes, how much can we expect one variant of a single gene to affect our behavior? Can this one gene be responsible for my teenage excitement of a car trip to Ohio or a trip to Croatia as an adult?
Who is to say for certain? There will be commentators and scientists on both sides of this is- sue. For myself, I don’t think I need an expensive DNA test to determine whether I possess the DRD4-7R gene variant. My answer will be when I purchase my plane ticket for my next trip.