Music in the genes

I caught wind of a study at Newcastle Upon Tyne on musicality the other day. Take a brief internet linkurl:test;http://www.delosis.com/listening to determine whether you can tell brief snippets of midi fashioned melodies apart. The goal, presumably, is sussing out people with amusia. It?s no secret that some can?t carry a tune. Some folks are simply terrible, off-key singers and don?t recognize it no matter what anyone tells them, but a small percentage of folks actually can?t distinguish not

By | March 14, 2006

I caught wind of a study at Newcastle Upon Tyne on musicality the other day. Take a brief internet linkurl:test;http://www.delosis.com/listening to determine whether you can tell brief snippets of midi fashioned melodies apart. The goal, presumably, is sussing out people with amusia. It?s no secret that some can?t carry a tune. Some folks are simply terrible, off-key singers and don?t recognize it no matter what anyone tells them, but a small percentage of folks actually can?t distinguish notes that are close together. This is amusia, and there might be a genetic component. This fascinates me. Music wasn?t so much a diversion growing up in our house as a duty. Lessons on something were mandatory and all my brothers and sisters can sing on key. I'll never forget my wife's shock when she heard us sing happy birthday. Everyone was on key, someone hit harmonies. Her family, she said, sounded as if they were competing to sing as far from the melody as possible. That there could be genetic components to musicality is tantalizing. Few stories have captured my imagination as fully as reporting on linkurl:Williams Syndrome.;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/12726/ A devastating congenital condition that confers serious heart defects and severely impaired IQ and logical reasoning but leaves the ability to play music fairly unscathed. Some individuals with Williams play and sing with surprising virtuosity. Some can?t read music but can play vast song catalogs from memory. And I?m obviously not the only one who gets excited about the possibilities. In January at the linkurl:Keystone meeting;http://keystonesymposia.org/Meetings/ViewMeetings.cfm?MeetingID=784 on epigenetics and chromatin remodeling in genetics, Emma Whitelaw at the University of Sydney mentioned that a mutant mouse discovered through a rather interesting ENU screening procedure was missing a gene associated with the somewhat large deletion found in Williams Syndrome. She half laughed when she said she was uncertain how to investigate musical phenotypes in mice (although linkurl:some people do).;http://biology.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1371/journal.pbio.0030386 She nevertheless noted that someone in her lab said the mice were quite sociable, another character-trait associated with Williams. Though musicality might not be the most important thing to study ? looking for heart defects in these mutant mice might be a bit more useful ? there should always be a place for research that simply instills wonder. On my test, I scored a 30 out of 30 and was asked via email to enlist my family. I wonder how they?ll all do.

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