Friday, January 05, 2007

The Genetics of Magic

The year-end edition of the British Medical Journal always covers topics that are typically overlooked in the biomedical literature during the rest of the year. This year Sreeram V Ramagopalan and colleagues have published a review of the literature* on the genetics of magic, "Origins of magic: review of genetic and epigenetic effects". Their conclusions:
Results Magic shows strong evidence of heritability, with familial aggregation and concordance in twins. Evidence suggests magical ability to be a quantitative trait. Specific magical skills, notably being able to speak to snakes, predict the future, and change hair colour, all seem heritable.

Conclusions A multilocus model with a dominant gene for magic might exist, controlled epistatically by one or more loci, possibly recessive in nature. Magical enhancers regulating gene expression may be involved, combined with mutations at specific genes implicated in speech and hair colour such as FOXP2 and MCR1.
They even propose a model of enhancer-driven gene regulation in individuals displaying the magical ability phenotype:

Now, like all good modern journals, BMJ allows comments on their articles (called "rapid responses" to make them sound less Live Journally, I suppose). One of the commenters has an excellent suggestion: a follow-up article on the heritability of Jedi powers. A tough research project since it would require sitting through Episodes I-III and reading the massive array related literature, but someone should definitely do it!

* The literature in this case being the Harry Potter series of books

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