Are you dreading the next karaoke event because of that coworker who can sing like Beyonc? Or are you the first to volunteer for that solo in a musical ensemble? This week, we'll explore how your genes might be partially responsible for your musical ability.
While our musical skills differ considerably due to environmental factors, it is true that most people can distinguish between different tones without being explicitly taught. In addition, our ability to sing on pitch in part involves our brain functions (for instance, how we perceive and process different sounds and how the part of the brain that controls motor skills produces the sounds that we intend to make). In fact, it is estimated that 40% of musical ability is genetically based.
In an interesting study by Park et al. (2012), the UGT8 gene, which has previously been shown to play a key role in the central nervous system, has been linked to musical ability among Mongolian participants.
The UGT8 gene codes for a protein called UDP glycosyltransferase 8, and high levels of this protein is actually associated with Alzheimer's Disease. (Fun fact: Alzheimer's disease patients, even after losing many other neurological functions, have the tendency to retain their musical abilities.)
In Park et al.'s study, half of the top ten gene loci associated with musical ability were located at or around the UGT8 gene, which provides further evidence that this gene plays a role in heritable musical ability. On top of this, their finding is consistent with a previously published study with Finnish participants. Learn more about the Mongolian study here: https://jmg.bmj.com/content/49/12/747
Of course, having said all this, it is important to note that the investigators did not consider many other environmental factors such as the level of formal musical training in their analyses, which are clear modifiers that will contribute to a person's skills. In other words, even if it turns out that your genotype is not in your favor, don't give up if music is your passion!
Furthermore, Park et al. acknowledge several genes other than UGT8 have also been implicated in musical ability previously but were not explored in their particular investigation. Despite these limitations, this study presents strong preliminary evidence for the link between variants of the UGT8 gene and inherent musical talent.
So, does music come naturally to you? Find out on Genomelink now!