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60-Second Science

Musical Ability Connected to Genes

A study of an extended Finnish family finds that specific stretches of DNA are associated with music, such as the ability to keep a beat or maintain proper pitch. Steve Mirsky explains, with reporting by Harvey Black

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

A team of Finnish and American geneticists has found that that, for some people at least, music is in their genes. In what the researchers called the first study of its kind, they found specific regions of chromosomes that were connected to musical ability. The report appeared in the Journal of Medical Genetics

The subjects were 234 members of several generations of 15 families in Finland. The team used a number of tests to gauge musical skill: one measured pitch, another tested the ability to keep a beat. The chromosomal regions that were found to be connected to music are known to be involved in the migration of neurons during development. And the study also found that the musical DNA overlapped with a region associated with dyslexia. That finding suggests that language and music have a common evolutionary background. Of course you’re going to need more than the right genes to make you a good musician. Because while the N and R trains will take you there, the best way to get to Carnegie Hall remains practice!

—Steve Mirsky, with reporting by Harvey Black   

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