Musical Genes? They May Even Tell Us Something About Dyslexia
As a four year old, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was reported to "play faultlessly and with the greatest delicacy" Behavior like that makes musical talent intriguing and mysterious.
Given that certain families produce abundant numbers of musicians, scientists have long suspected that talent in this realm music might have genetic roots. Now research indicates that they may be right. Scientists in Finland say they’ve found approximate locations in our genome where genes affecting musical talent may lie. The findings suggest not only that musical ability is partly genetic but it may share evolutionary roots with language.
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.
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. The patch of DNA in question encompassed about 50 genes. Of particular interest was one gene that interacts with molecules that govern the development of brain cells and their interconnections. Mutations in the gene are also indirectly linked to defects in time and pitch processing. There’s also evidence such mutations may be connected to the dyslexia.
Interestingly, a second 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 .
These studies, while too small to be definitive, are good starting points for further mapping, isolation, and description of genes that may help us account for the Mozarts of the world--and at the same time, the children who struggle with the printed page.