From former FEMA-front man Michael Brown to would-be-chief of Immigration Julie Myers, the niece of Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, the headlines of late have been filled with reports of unqualified individuals filling high-level jobs within the Bush Administration. Now scientists say they may finally understand why. These high-level appointees and the administration officials that recommended them for their jobs probably suffer from 'Crony's' disease, a genetic mutation that causes cronyism, corruption and unbridled patronage.
Experts say gene therapy could hold the cure for embattled officials suffering from 'Crony's Disease'
By Hermione Slatkin, health and science correspondent
SAN DIEGO, CA—Michael Brown. Julie Myers. David Safavian. Norris Alderson. They are the icons for a politically connected generation, as inexperienced as they are overcompensated. But what could cause these individuals to lobby for and accept positions for which they have no training, to engage in questionable contracting practices and to lie to federal prosecutors?
Now, a team of scientists believes that it may finally have unlocked the mystery of what causes seemingly good people to go bad--or at least to be promoted well beyond their paygrades. The answer, it seems, is in the genes.
A gene for graft
The scientists, working in coordination with the Human Genome Project, say that they've finally identified what seems to be the genetic mutation that causes everything from cronyism and corruption to unbridled patronage .
The go-to gene, say scientists, is one of the more than 30,000 that make up the human gene sequence. By comparison, the fruitfly and the mustard weed, both of which lack the unethical gene, weigh in at 13,000 and 25,000 genes respectively.
All it takes is one bad gene
While all humans possess the gene responsible for governing ethical behavior, it is a relatively rare mutation that causes full-fledged fraud to develop. "We're talking about a tiny percentage of cases where the gene has deteriorated to the extent that the disease manifests itself," says Dr. David Orlofsky, lead genomics experts at the Center for Structural Genomics. "Unfortunately, the cases where you do have deleterious genes often lead to behaviors that saddle society with a huge burden. It's this relatively small number of people with the disease who are being appointed to positions for which they are completely unqualified."
Dr. Orlofsky and his team spent 3 years studying the gene before they identified the marker for what genetics experts are calling Crony's disease.
Predicting ethical lapses
In recent years, genomics, the study of how genomes orchestrate the flow of information within cells, has taken off, facilitated by bioinformatics, the use of computers to process the huge amount of data that genomics is generating. And along the way, scientists have identified thousands of genetic markers linked to mutated genes associated with a range of medical problems.
Scientists say that they can identify the presence of the mutated gene that causes Crony's disease through a single drop of blood. A sample taken from former FEMA chief Michael Brown, for example, will be placed on a special slide and read by a laser. Within minutes, doctors will be able to determine whether Mr. Brown's incompetence on the job may have had a genetic basis. "I would imagine that even thought this is still pretty experimental stuff, Mr. Brown will be relieved to get a diagnosis," says Dr. Orlofsky. "At that point he can truthfully say that his genes made him do it."
A cure for corruption
Mr. Brown and others who are diagnosed as having the genetic disorder also have a treatment option: experimental gene therapy in which healthy genes are inserted into the genome to replace the offending, disease-causing gene. Using a carrier molecule known as a vector, the non-corrupt gene will be delivered to the target cells of ailing officials. If the new genes 'take,' the cells are restored to their original, ethical state, before the gene began to mutate, causing cronyism, corruption and ethical violations.
Scientists say that their next step will be to identify the conditions under which the gene that dictates ethical behavior begins to mutate and otherwise 'go bad.' They say that they may also press for widespread testing in order to predict who will go on to develop Crony's disease. Initial testing is likely to center on high-risk sectors of the population, including office-seekers and holders of both political parties, evangelical preachers, major league baseball players and business school graduates.
For more information about treatment options, or to share your experience with Crony's disease, write to email@example.com.