According to research, one in four of us has an Adventure Gene - a DRD4-7R dopamine-receptor variant on chromosome 11 - which drives us to enjoy extraordinary experiences and exciting careers.
Many 7Rs gravitate to high-stress, high-risk careers that satisfy their cravings: pilots, entrepreneurs. But those with safer jobs feel compelled to spend their leisure time scaling frozen waterfalls or base jumping.
It might seem reckless and selfish to their loved ones but as a species we owe them quite a favour. They’re the pioneers it’s now believed who have driven forward human boundaries both literally and figuratively – breaking new ground in the creative arts and technology or simply breaking new ground. DRD4-7R has been dubbed the Adventure Gene: the risk-taking curiosity it endows propelled our distant forefathers out of Africa then ever onwards. A 7R thinks outside the box, then kicks a hole in it and strides off into the unknown. Exploration is like some extreme bench-test of mankind’s defining talents: wanderlust harnessed to innovation, dexterity and resourcefulness.
Take the remarkable Ernest Shackleton, stranded thousands of miles from safety when the Antarctic ice crushed his ship in 1915. In a life-or-death showcase of the explorer’s full skillset, Shackleton rallied his exhausted colleagues into reinforcing their flimsy open lifeboat with whatever lay to hand – a driftwood deck was weather-proofed with seal blood. Incredibly, everyone made it home.
Thanks to the likes of Shackleton, in 50,000 years we’ve effectively conquered the entire surface of our planet. From that perspective, the explorers’ work here is done.
Mind you, we haven’t scratched the surface of exploration yet: outer space should keep them out of mischief for a while, and in the meantime, there are yawning gaps in our scientific knowledge that might soon be closed through their adventurous curiosity.
When Marvin Zuckerman, the professor who isolated the Adventure Gene, had his genome sequenced he found he was a 7R. Zuckerman had never thought of himself as an adventurer in the traditional sense, but now understood what had inspired and sustained his own journey into the unknown: the urge to explore our urge to explore.