Will Sylvie be an Orchid, or a Very Impressive Dandelion?

Multiple studies involving hundreds of rhesus monkeys have produced data that support the orchid/dandelion hypothesis.

I just finished reading this piece by David Dobbs in The Atlantic.  In it, he outlines the orchid/dandelion hypothesis which posits that certain genetic variants dispose one both to social dysfunction and marked potential for success depending on one’s environment.  In other words, researchers are beginning to find the upside to having “bad” genes.

This new model suggests that its a mistake to understand these “risk” genes only as liabilities.  Yes, this new thinking goes, these bad genes can create dysfunction in unfavorable contexts – but they can also enhance function in favorable contexts.  The genetic sensitivity to negative experience […]are just the downside of a bigger phenomenon: a heightened genetic sensitivity to all experience.

Cuter than a rhesus monkey, but sharing about 95% of their DNA and a common ancestor some 25 million years ago, Sylvie's cute temper tantrums suggests the 5-HTTLPR gene that she shares with rhesus monkeys is either S/S or S/L thereby endowing her with orchid potential.

So whether Sylvie is an orchid (requiring greenhouse care to flourish) or a dandelion (will flourish pretty much anywhere) may depend on whether or not her serotonin-transporter gene is of the short/short or short/long variants (orchids) or the more efficient long/long variant (dandelion).  I won’t be having her genes assayed and it’s probably too early to guess.  Bur her cute temper tantrums suggests the gene in question is either S/S or S/L thereby endowing her with orchid potential.

Healthy orchids are prettier than healthy dandelions, of course.  So that’s the potential downside for us dandelions.  Yes, I’ve got myself pegged dandelion.  I’ve heard I was relatively easy child to raise; and if I have inner demons like the ones the orchidaceous Lincoln wrestled with, for example, they have let me be so far.  I haven’t achieved the level of success Lincoln did either and don’t have my sites set anywhere near that high (lowering expectations: how dandelionish of me).

So far as Sylvie’s genes are concerned, she’s going to be getting the full greenhouse care treatment.   My hope is that she’ll either blossom into the flourishing orchid her genes intended, or into a very, very impressive and hearty dandelion.

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