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Mental Illness Born in Battle Between Parents’ Genes, Suggests SFU Prof

Bernard Crespi has been awarded the school’s Sterling prize for brave, controversial work.

By Christopher Cheung 2 Sep 2016 | TheTyee.ca

Christopher Cheung is editorial assistant for The Tyee.

Bernard Crespi, a Simon Fraser University biology professor, has won the school’s Nora and Ted Sterling prize in light of his research on the role of competing parental genes in mental illness. The Sterling prize is given annually to work that provokes or examines controversy.

“I think the award is important in that it says somebody cares that you’re doing something new and novel and potentially wrong,” said Crespi, “but potentially revolutionary.”

Crespi’s “Diametric Theory of Human Mental Illness,” published with co-author sociologist Christopher Badcock in 2008, proposes that there are two opposite ends on the spectrum of mental illness: autism on one end, and psychotic affective conditions on the other. Both are caused by a father and mother’s genes, respectively.

According to the diametric theory, a battle between genes from the father’s sperm and the mother’s egg can tip brain development towards either side. The father’s is the autism side: the child will have a stronger fascination with objects, patterns, and mechanical systems, but will be weaker socially. The mother’s is the psychotic side: the child will be hypersensitive to their own and other’s moods, and be more prone to schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder.

On coming up with the spectrum, Crespi says it stemmed from wondering about two extremes: “We take the set of traits that have evolved in humans – and this includes language and complex social emotional sort of traits – and we say what happens if those traits are increased? What happens if they’re decreased?”

The novelty of this theory in psychiatry has been compared to Freud.

“There’s been much speculation in psychiatry about evolution because most people in psychiatry and psychology are not trained in evolutionary biology,” says Crespi. “Most people in those fields are very hesitant to listen and accept evolutionary ideas even though, for biologists, evolution forms the fundamental theory that holds everything together.”

As for what’s next, Crespi is already amassing data on the implications the theory has on the therapies and treatments for mental illness.

Bernard Crespi will be giving a free lecture (registration required) on his research on Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. Read more at SFU News here.  [Tyee]

Read more: Health

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