Okay, I’ve come to terms with the fact that Christmas is coming soon. It seems to have snuck up fast (although I’m beginning to think that it does that every year.) Once November started, Santa set up shop taking pictures in the middle of the mall. This is the time of giving gifts and receiving gifts. It’s the time of rushing to the store, and trying to beat closing time to get the last minute gifts (after finally figuring out what to buy to begin with). It’s the time of wonderfully smelling houses with more food cooking than what could possibly be consumed by twice as many people that are going to consume it. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

During this time you might notice the donation opportunities. Many organizations are looking for donations of money, food, gifts, toys or clothing. Outside of the stores you might see the tell tale red bucket with the ringing bell for The Salvation Army. Many people will donate towards causes, and others will not. Researchers at the University of Bonn can now predict which of the two you are.

The researchers have discovered a minute change in a gene that is significantly associated with the willingness to donate. People with this change gave twice as much money on average then those without.

The gene is called COMT (Catechol-O-methyltransferase). The enzyme plays a role in the metabolism of calecholamines by inactivating them. These calecholamines are messengers in the brain. Dopamine is a well known messenger. The variants are called COMT-Val and COMT-Met, differing by a single amino acid and are present in equal amounts in the population. The enzyme associated with the COMT-Val variant works up to four times more effectively at inactivating dopamine.

Researchers gathered a group of 100 participants that were required to memorize a series of numbers and were told to repeat them as correctly as possible. Each received money as compensation for the test. Afterwards, each participant was given the option of keeping the money, or donating the money to a poor child in a developing country. The decision was to be made freely and it was supposed to be anonymous. Participants with the COMT-Val variant donated twice as much money on average than those with the COMT-Met variant.

Altruism is the selfless concern for the welfare of others and this is the first time that researchers have been able to establish its link to particular genes.