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60-Second Science

Genetic Link for Perfect Pitch?

Recent research claims to have found some evidence for a genetic link to perfect pitch. Christie Nicholson reports

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

We might think perfect pitch is an innate talent. Well, a study in the American Journal of Human Genetics is providing some evidence for that.

Perfect pitch, aka absolute pitch, is the rare ability to name or recreate musical notes like A or middle C without using any comparable reference.

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, studied the results from an online test taken by over ten thousand people. Not surprisingly, individuals tended to either have perfect pitch or not.

But in a closer study of 73 families researchers found a region of genes on chromosome eight in those with perfect pitch and from European ancestry. More study is needed to zero in on just which gene or multiple genes might be responsible. And for comparison they intend to study individuals without perfect pitch but with equivalent musical training.

There is some evidence that babies have the ability for absolute pitch, so researchers for this study theorize that maybe most lose this ability with age, but that what a so-called pitch gene does is extend this talent through a crucial period in childhood.

—Christie Nicholson

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