Genetics and Music

We have always been in the phase of being the ‘bathroom singer’ . Not all of us though; some emerge as nightingales too. But I always used to wonder why. Why were some of us born with the ‘gift’ of a soprano voice? Why were some born with the ‘ear’ to appreciate fine music?

In a study published on Tuesday that compared hundreds of individuals, scientists said the first step towards answering the question may lie in DNA—in several genes that detect and interpret sounds.

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.

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.

According to a common theory, musical aptitude has a “primary” component—the physical ability to distinguish tones and sequences—and this is a prerequisite to a “secondary” component, the skill to play, which is dependent on one’s culture and environment. “Environmental factors, such as the childhood musical environment, the example set by parents and siblings, and music education affect musical abilities,” it added.

Shreshtha Chakraborty

(All information from Medical Xpress)

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