Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Genes and musical ability
Researchers took blood samples from 767 people from 76 families, ranging in age from seven to 94 years. Some families had a strong musical tradition, boasting several professional players. The scientists unravelled the genetic code from the samples and carried out a comparison between the volunteers, looking for variants in their DNA. They also asked the volunteers to do three musical tests. The guinea pigs were asked to distinguish between notes that had slightly different tones and durations, and to identify sequences of notes that were subtly different from each other. Among those who performed well in these tests, the big standout was tiny but significant differences in several genes located on Chromosome 4 which help determine how we hear and perceive sound. One variant lies on a gene called GATA2, which is important for the hair cells in the inner ear. The delicate fibres on these cells move in response to different frequencies and transmit a signal through the auditory nerve to the brain. Another telltale variant was found in a gene called PCDH7, which plays an important role in a part of the brain called the amygdala — believed to be the driver for how we transform sounds into patterns.