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Musical genes may be coming to light

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  • Julienne
    April 30, 2008 RETURN TO THE WORLD SCIENCE HOME PAGE Musical genes may be coming to light April 30, 2008 Special to World Science Scientists say they ve found
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      April 30, 2008


      Musical genes may be coming to light

      April 30, 2008
      Special to World Science 

      Scientists say they’ve found approximate locations in our genome where genes affecting musical talent may lie, the results of the first, small study to systematically seek these out. The findings support the view that musical ability is partly genetic and may share evolutionary roots with language, according to the researchers, who studied Finnish families. The work may also be a step toward revealing "the role of music in human brain function, human evolution and its relationship to language," they wrote, though they added it will take larger followup studies to clarify this. The study of 234 Finns from 15 families - all with at least some musicians was published in the April 18 advance online issue of The Journal of Medical Genetics. Kristiina Pulli of the University of Helsinki and colleagues tested the participants using so-called linkage analyses, a type of probe designed to tie particular traits to specific areas of the genome. The analysis does so by examining whether a given trait often occurs in people who also have a known, distinct bit of genetic code. If so, it suggests this genetic "marker" is physically near a gene for that trait; otherwise, the connection would tend to dissolve, thanks to gene-scrambling processes involved in reproduction. As part of the research, each participant also took three tests of musical aptitude. The researchers reported finding "significant evidence" for an association between that ability and a small region of Chromosome 4. Human genes lie on about two dozen distinct chromosomes, most numbered by size from biggest to smallest. The patch of DNA in question encompassed about 50 genes, Pulli and colleagues wrote. Of particular interest within these, they added, was one known as netrin receptor UNC5C precursor. This gene, they wrote, interacts with molecules that govern the development of brain cells and their interconnections. The gene is also indirectly linked to defects in time and pitch processing, they added. There’s also evidence the gene may be connected to the language dysfunction dyslexia, suggesting possible connections between music and language, the team proposed. Interestingly, they added, of the three musical tests they used, the one with the strongest apparent link to the gene region is also predictive of dyslexia, which impairs reading and spelling ability. The team also reported two other snippets of the genome possibly but more weakly linked to musical ability, on Chromosomes 8 and 18 the latter at a location also tied to dyslexia. In findings that echoed Pulli’s somewhat, a separate group reported in the April 16 advance online issue of the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience that children with language syntax deficits also have musical difficulties. Scientists have long suspected music might have genetic roots. "Music is an ancient and universal feature across all human societies, noted Pulli and colleagues. The not-uncommon appearance of musician-families, such as the clan that famously spawned J.S. Bach in 1685, also suggested a genetic component, they added, though other factors could explain that phenomenon. Their study, they continued, while too small to be definitive, is "a starting point for further mapping, isolation, and characterization of genes that predispose to musical aptitude."


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