It might take practice to get to Carnegie Hall but scientists found that it takes a set of dozens of genes in the brain working together to make that practice pay off.
This is Scientific American’s 60-Second Science. I’m Karen Hopkin. This will just take a minute.
You might also want to switch on your alpha-synuclein gene, and throw in a dual-specificity phosphatase or two. Because a new study finds that these and other genes are activated when professional musicians strut their stuff. The findings are in the journal Nature Scientific Reports. [Chakravarthi Kanduri et al, The effect of music performance on the transcriptome of professional musicians]
Mastering an instrument is no easy feat. It requires timing, coordination, emotional interpretation and an ability to integrate information that comes in through the ears, the eyes and the fingers. But what gives rise to musical ability, biologically speaking?
To find out, researchers took blood samples from 10 professional musicians before and after they played a selection of pieces by Stravinsky, Haydn, Mozart and Bach. And they identified all of the genes that were turned on during the performance—that is, those genes that actually got transcribed into RNAs that could be used to make proteins.
What they saw was a boost in the activity of genes involved in neural growth and flexibility, which could account for musicians’ brains being good at forging new connections. Genes involved in motor control were also revved up, as were those that light up the brain’s pleasure center.
Perhaps not surprisingly, versions of about a third of these musically important genes are known to also be active in songbirds—another creature whose livelihood depends on using musical talent to wow an audience.
Thanks for the minute! For Scientific American, I’m Karen Hopkin.
—Karen Hopkin, Eliene Augenbraun, and Benjamin Meyers
[Scientific American and Scientific Reports are both parts of Nature Publishing Group.]
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Producers: Benjamin Meyers, Eliene Augenbraun
Writer and Narrator: Karen Hopkin
Audio Editor: Steve Mirsky
Music Composition: Eliene Augenbraun
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Minerbi, et al. PLoS, 2009.
Kanduri, et al. Scientific Reports, 2015.