This page was produced as an assignment for Genetics 677, an undergraduate course at UW-Madison.

Popular Press Review

Most likely due to its relatively recent discovery, little has been written in the popular press about the link between the GRM7 gene and alcoholism. A short review of one such article, entitled "Gene that influences alcohol consumption identified", published in Science Daily on December 6th, 2007, is given below.

Image taken from NIAAA, 2007



The article entitled “Gene that influences alcohol consumption identified,” published by ScienceDaily on December 6, 2007, describes the findings of a group of New York University School of Medicine scientists, led by Csaba Vadasz, Ph.D., that a variant of the GRM7 gene directly influences alcohol consumption in mice. This article focuses primarily on conveying to the reader to how these findings alter our current understanding alcoholism; however, the author states clearly that “scientists do not yet know whether a similar gene variant, with a similar effect… exists in humans.” After grabbing the reader’s attention with the news of Dr. Vadasz’s findings, the article begins with a brief description of the role of the GRM7 protein as a receptor responsible for inhibiting the release of the neurotransmitter glutamate. The link between alcoholism and the GRM7 variant, which was found to reduce expression levels of GRM7 mRNA in the mouse brain, is made by describing the how mice with lower levels of GRM7 mRNA drink more than mice with normal GRM7 mRNA levels. Emphasizing the difficulty of finding genes related to alcoholism, due to the many gene-gene and gene-environment interactions that create background noise, the article describes how Dr. Vadasz and colleagues were able to use mice with nearly identical genetic backgrounds, but different alcohol preferences, to identify GRM7. The article highlights the contribution of these findings to “emerging evidence of the critical role that the brain's glutamate pathways play in addiction,” before closing with the opportunities that lie ahead if GRM7 can be shown to contribute to alcoholism in humans. (NIAAA, 2007).

Adapted from a news release written by the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Addiction (NIAAA), this ScienceDaily article explains the “research clearly so that the reader can understand the science and the issues involved and act accordingly” (Kua, et al.,2004; NIAAA, 2007). Unlike many media reports of this type, the article successfully conveys the context of the research, describing briefly the difficulties associated with finding genes related to alcoholism and situating the discovery of glutamate’s involvement in alcoholism within what was already known about the role of neurotransmitters in alcohol addiction (Kua, et al.,2004; NIAAA, 2007). The article also provides context in the last paragraph, by giving an idea of the direction future research on this gene will take (NIAAA, 2007). In combination with the brief background on the function of the GRM7 protein in the brain, this context allows the reader to understand what, exactly, has been discovered (Kua, et al.,2004; NIAAA, 2007). By including details of the methodology of the study, the article also helps the reader to understand how this discovery was made (NIAAA, 2007). Additionally, this article allows the reader to comprehend the importance of the research, without overstating “the generalizability of the data,” another problem often encountered in science reporting (Kua, et al.,2004; NIAAA, 2007). The author makes clear in the second sentence, as well as in the concluding paragraph, that a human homolog has not yet been identified, and that, while this study points to the involvement of a particular glutamate receptor in alcoholism, further research is needed to show that GRM7 affects alcoholism in humans (NIAAA, 2007). The reader comes away with an appreciation for how GRM7 may affect alcoholism, but is not deceived into thinking, for example, that there will soon be screens for genetic susceptibility to alcoholism or drugs that can treat alcohol dependence. One potential problem with this article for the lay reader is the level of jargon (Kua, et al.,2004). While taking care to describe what mRNA is, as well as what glutamate and other neurotransmitters do, the author fails to clarify what a “gene variant” is (NIAAA, 2007). For a lay reader unfamiliar with genetics, it is not apparent whether “gene variant” means one version of a gene that occupies a specific position in the genome, or whether it means a gene related to GRM7 found in a separate location from the first gene. In addition, a quote from Dr. Vadasz discussing the roles of dopamine and glutamate in alcoholism is likely to be confusing to a reader who does not already know that dopamine, like glutamate, is a neurotransmitter (NIAAA, 2007). However, while the use of jargon may elicit some confusion from readers, it does not seem to be great enough to obscure the readers’ understanding of the study. Overall, this article successfully conveys the methodology, context, and importance of the research findings in a way that makes the science accessible to the general audience for which it was written.


References

Kua, E., Reder, M., Grossel, M. J. (2004). Science in the news: a study of reporting genomics. Public Understanding of Science 13(3), 309. doi: 10.1177/0963662504045539

NIH/National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). (2007, December 6). Gene That Influences Alcohol Consumption Identified. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 12, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/12/071205153142.htm

 

Jennifer Wagner
wagner4@wisc.edu
Updated March 27, 2009
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