Warning: This post contains spoilers for Riverdale season 4 episode 5.
The serial killer gene, which Riverdale first introduced in season three, came back with a vengeance on last night's episode. Last year, while Alice was still in The Farm, she told her daughter that she had the gene. Back then, it was unclear if we could believe Alice, but now Betty knows for a fact that she possesses the monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) gene. So, what is "the serial killer gene" and is it actually real? Here's everything you need to know about MAOA's long, complicated history.
What is the MAOA?
Let's get scientific for a sec. The MAOA is an enzyme that breaks down molecules called monoamines, according to the Genetics Home Reference. Some of these monoamines are neurotransmitters including serotonin, epinephrine, and dopamine. Serotonin regulates mood, emotion, sleep, and appetite, while epinephrine controls the body's response to stress and dopamine helps produce smooth physical movements.
So, when does it get dangerous?
If your MAOA is functioning, you're good to go, but the issue comes when you have low-functioning MAOA. This causes serotonin and other neurotransmitters to build up in the brain, which can cause behavioral problems like "aggressive and violent outbursts," according to the GHR. For this reason, a variant in the MAOA is often referred to as "the warrior gene."
It is important to note two things about the MAOA. One, it affects males almost exclusively, and two, according to Rose McDermott, PhD, who has studied the gene, it simply "increases the likelihood that a person who possesses this variant will engage in physical aggression in response to provocation, when they have experienced a lot of traumatic early childhood events." Meaning, it isn't "deterministic." While the Coopers are by no means a normal family, it seems like Betty had, more or less, a good childhood and was void of any "traumatic early childhood events."
When Betty tells her half-brother Charles that she has the gene, he informs her that he has it too. Of course, we don't know if he's lying or not, but it would make sense. The serial killer gene is inherited. So, it's possible that Jughead could have it as well...
And while the gene may be called "the serial killer gene," if your MAOA is low-functioning, that doesn't necessarily mean you're going to be a murderer. "While it may be possible to find serial killers with MAOA, you cannot know that this predisposes them without also thinking about all the people with MAOA who are not serial killers," Dr. McDermott said.
What about cdh13?
Last season, while informing Betty of her "serial killer genes," Alice also mentions CDH13. Well, there is significantly less information known about this gene's affect on the violent tendencies of a person.
CDH13 helps signal between cells, according to the Genetic Literacy Project. It has been linked to everything from attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to bipolar disorder, but its affect on criminality is still unknown.
However, one study found that in Finland, offenders of 10 or more serious violent crimes were much more likely to carry a low-functioning MAOA or a variant in the CDH13 gene. Again, though, its unclear if this variant causes one to be violent, or if it's more of a scientific coincidence.
So, what's the deal with Betty, then?
Despite Betty's worries, she's probably fine. Yes, she killed her cat, and animal abuse at a young age is common among serial killers, but we now know her dad forced her to kill Cinnamon. And, serial killers may keep constant diaries like Betty, but tons of non-serial killers keep diaries. Most likely, she is just freaking out for noting.
On top of that, these gene variations almost exclusively found in men, and they have to be partnered with traumatic early childhoods to really have an effect on a person. While the Cooper's are messed up, Betty's childhood seems to have been pretty normal. I can't speak for Charles, though. If he really does have the gene, that may cause some trouble, especially because we don't know much about the environment he was raised in. That could be something to look out for in the remainder of the season...
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