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Professor receives grant for same-sex study

Over the years, researchers have tried to find genetic links to male same-sex attraction and U. S. studies showed at least two chromosomes may be associated with male sexual orientation.

Professor Paul Vasey of the University of Lethbridge has received $25,000 in funding from the National Institutes of Health grant and is now one step closer to determining if those chromosomes influence male sexuality across cultures.

Much of Vasey’s recent career has been spent studying what one culture recognizes as a third gender. In Samoa, feminine biological males who are attracted to males are considered fa’afafine.

In 2010, Vasey travelled to Samoa to begin collecting saliva samples which could be used to study the genetics of male sexual orientation.

Over the course of several field seasons, nearly 700 samples were taken from men who were attracted to women and from fa’afafine. The samples were analyzed and showed sufficient DNA was present to warrant a more expensive genome-wide association study.

“The samples have been sitting in storage at Sick Children Hospital in Toronto since that period,” said Vasey, noting more funding was needed to perform the study.

Now that funding has been received, Vasey and collaborators Andrew Paterson and Alan Sanders will finally get some closure to the genetic analysis portion of their research project.

Vasey noted the two chromosomal areas that U. S. studies have identified as potential factors are the Xq28 and the central region of chromosome 8.

The results from the samples have not been processed but “it would be interesting if the data found that these two chromosomal regions are associated with male same-sex sexual attraction in Samoa,” said Vasey. Then “you’d be able to say that it’s the same genetic mechanism that looks important in terms of the expression of male sexual orientation across different cultural contexts.”

Male same-sex sexual attraction is expressed differently in Samoa compared to North America. In Samoa, males who prefer other biological males as sexual partners are widely accepted because fa’afafine do not identify as male or female.

“This study would help to determine whether it’s the same genetic mechanism that is involved despite the different manifestations of the trait in adulthood.”

Read more at Lethbridge Herald