Back in 2005 British geneticists Jeffrey M Craig, Renee Dow, and Mary Ann Aitken wrote a letter to Nature (reprinted by the Panda's Thumb) suggesting that the inheritance of wizarding abilities might be a good way to introduce kids to basic ideas in genetics.
Wizards or witches can be of any race, and may be the offspring of a wizard and a witch, the offspring of two muggles (‘muggle-born’), or of mixed ancestry (‘half-blood’).
This suggests that wizarding ability is inherited in a mendelian fashion, with the wizard allele (W) being recessive to the muggle allele (M). According to this hypothesis, all wizards and witches therefore have two copies of the wizard allele (WW). Harry’s friends Ron Weasley and Neville Longbottom and his arch-enemy Draco Malfoy are ‘pure-blood’ wizards: WW with WW ancestors for generations back. Harry’s friend Hermione is a powerful muggle-born witch (WW with WM parents). Their classmate Seamus is a half-blood wizard, the son of a witch and a muggle (WW with one WW and one WM parent). Harry (WW with WW parents) is not considered a pure-blood, as his mother was muggle-born.
The commenters get into the discussion with proposals for how genetics might explain squibs and the variability in magical powers, even though those issues were also mentioned in a rebuttal letter.
There may even be examples of incomplete penetrance (Neville has poor wizarding skills) and possible mutations or questionable paternity: Filch, the caretaker, is a ‘squib’, someone born into a wizarding family but with no wizarding powers of their own.Now Anne-Marie of Pondering Pikaia has written a fun series of posts on the details of biology in the Harry Potter universe:
- Part 1: The Genetics of Wizards
- Part 2: Dracorex hogwartsia (fossil dragons!)
- Part 3: Conservation Biology
- Part 4: The Botany of Wands
- Part 5: Kin Selection
- Part 6: Harry Potter and the Hypertonic Cephalopod (i.e., the freshwater giant squid living in the Hogwarts Lake)
- Part 7: Does This Horcrux Make My Soul Look Fat?
- Part 8: Scar Biology
Eva Amsen (aka easternblot) also has a series of updates on Harry Potter biology.
- In Part 1, Eva reviews wizard/muggle genetics (and refers to this handy powerpoint presentation). She also has done a search of the biomedical literature and found an article in the journal Headache that has diagnosed Harry's recurring headaches as migraines. (The LA Times article about the paper also links to other neurology diagnoses of fictional characters). She also dug up an article about magical ailments (pdf) and a follow-up article about the medical care of various conditions - gigantism, squib, "thin, cognitively impaired lady with bulging eyes" - at Hogwarts Infirmary and St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical maladies.
- In Part 2 of her series, Eva discusses which characters would make good scientists.
- In Part 3, she looks at bezoars in myth and real life.
Do you know a lover of the Harry Potter books that you'd like to introduce to science fiction? The readers of SF Signal have compiled a list of titles you can suggest.
(thanks to Coturnix for pointing out both series!)
Tags: biology, Harry Potter, genetics, botany, zoology, dragons