Mao Genes

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About Mao Genes

The MAO Genes website focuses on Dr. Jean Chen Shih’s thirty years of pioneering molecular research on a crucial pair of brain enzymes, known as the MAO A and MAO B genes (monoamine oxidase) that help control aggression and anxiety in mice and men.

Sample video from section “Defining MAO”

Besides addressing advances in molecular biology and the human genome project, this website explores the interplay between biology and culture and ethical questions in science. By documenting the discoveries of Dr. Shih and her colleagues and by presenting interviews with several scientists explaining how they became interested in biology, this website also encourages young people to choose science as a career. As a video-based website, it appeals to a wide range of users with different levels of knowledge, from school children and the general public to graduate students and scientists. 

The website content is divided into 10 sections, that can be considered within three larger topics: Basic Molecular Biology, Human Behavior and Jean Shih and Other Scientists.

Basic Molecular Biology: Defining MAO, Serotonin, Genetics and Gene Regulation, and Knockout Mice

Animated sequences in these sections, with detailed voice-overs, describe protein folding and other vital biological processes. Also videos document activities taking place in Jean Chen Shih’s research lab.

Sample video from section “Knockout Mice”

Jean Shih and Other Scientists: Dr. Jean Chen Shih, MAO Researchers, and On Becoming a Scientist

Sample video from section “Dr. Jean Chen Shih”

Human Behavior: Human Significance of MAO, Nature and Culture, and Ethical Issues

Videos in these sections provide access to a wide range of interviews with experts from many related fields, including: a clinical geneticist who studied a Dutch family with several generations of aggressive males with a MAO A deficiency, a psychologist heading a large study of twins, a professor of religion exploring the ethics of biogenetics and intelligent design, and a media scholar discussing the representation of violence and its impact on culture.

Sample video from section “Human Significance of MAO”


Much of the content in this website is from an earlier science education project that grew out of a unique collaboration between Jean Chen Shih, professor of molecular biology in the USC schools of pharmacy and medicine, and Marsha Kinder, professor of critical studies in the USC school of cinema-television and director of The Labyrinth Project, a research initiative on interactive narrative that has produced award-winning installations, DVD-ROMs and websites. Each was named a University Professor for her innovative interdisciplinary research, the only two women at the University of Southern California who had received this honor.

Working with a small team of talented animation, production and critical studies students from the USC School of Cinematic Arts and graduate assistants from Jean Shih’s lab, the co-directors on the MAO project, Rosemary Comella and Kristy H.A. Kang, designed a dynamic interface that provides easy access to an amazing range of information through compelling visual presentation.

Opening credits for the original DVD-ROM


Marsha Kinder, Jean Shih and Animators discuss Multimedia Collaboration