NEW YORK (Reuters) – While President Donald Trump has thrust transgender people back into the conflict between conservative and liberal values in the United States, geneticists are quietly working on a major research effort to unlock the secrets of gender identity.
A consortium of five research institutions in Europe and the United States, including Vanderbilt University Medical Center, George Washington University and Boston Children’s Hospital, is looking to the genome, a person’s complete set of DNA, for clues about whether transgender people are born that way.
Two decades of brain research have provided hints of a biological origin to being transgender, but no irrefutable conclusions.
Now scientists in the consortium have embarked on what they call the largest-ever study of its kind, searching for a genetic component to explain why people assigned one gender at birth so persistently identify as the other, often from very early childhood. (reut.rs/2w3Ozg9)
Researchers have extracted DNA from the blood samples of 10,000 people, 3,000 of them transgender and the rest non-transgender, or cisgender. The project is awaiting grant funding to begin the next phase: testing about 3 million markers, or variations, across the genome for all of the samples.
Knowing what variations transgender people have in common, and comparing those patterns to those of cisgender people in the study, may help investigators understand what role the genome plays in everyone’s gender identity.
“If the trait is strongly genetic, then people who identify as trans will share more of their genome, not because they are related in nuclear families but because they are more anciently related,” said Lea Davis, leader of the study and an assistant professor of medicine at the Vanderbilt Genetics Institute.
The search for the biological underpinnings is taking on new relevance as the battle for transgender rights plays out in the U.S. political arena.
One of the first acts of the new Trump administration was to revoke Obama-era guidelines directing public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms of their choice. (reut.rs/2l8pWJe) Last week, the president announced on Twitter he intends to ban transgender people from serving in the military. (reut.rs/2uXF8kG)
Texas lawmakers are debating a bathroom bill that would require people to use the bathroom of the sex listed on their birth certificate. (reut.rs/2tXKbgV) North Carolina in March repealed a similar law after a national…