Sunday, February 21, 2016

Does musicality have a biological foundation?

Genes with functions that are relevant to music aptitude such as hearing, cognitive performance and neurodegenerative functions are marked by triangles (From Liu et al., 2016).
A few days ago a study was published by the team of Irma Järvelä (University of Helsinki) on the identification of genetic variants underlying musical ability. They based their new study (Liu et al., 2016) on an existing database of ca. 150 unrelated Finnish subjects that were tested for their musical ability using a collection of pitch and pattern perception tests. In addition, for all participants genomic DNA was available (based on a blood sample). The participants were divided into two groups (low vs high musical aptitude), with the lower scoring individuals functioning as the control group.

The study focused on regions that can be associated with positive selection (Sabeti et al., 2006). Using genomic and bioinformatic techniques, the researchers were able to identify those regions that contain sets of variations in the DNA and show which regions are likely under positive selection.

The regions that were identified contained genes that are involved in auditory perception (e.g. GPR98, USH2A), cognition and memory (e.g. GRIN2B, IL1A, IL1B, RAPGEF5), reward mechanisms (RGS9), and song perception and production of songbirds (e.g. FOXP1, RGS9, GPR98, GRIN2B).

There are, of course, some drawbacks in this study that is largely exploratory. While the study was able to identify positively selected regions, the actual genes involved and their function remains unclear. Musicality is, obviously, a complex trait that likely has many contributing genes, and developing a proper phenomics is still quite a challenge (cf. Gingras et al., 2015). Nevertheless, the study suggests that several genes – that can be argued to be essential for musical aptitude (or musicality at large) – could well be under positive selection. The result hence supports the idea that musicality has a biological foundation that is necessary for the development of musical culture.

ResearchBlogging.orgLiu, X., Kanduri, C., Oikkonen, J., Karma, K., Raijas, P., Ukkola-Vuoti, L., Teo, Y., & Järvelä, I. (2016). Detecting signatures of positive selection associated with musical aptitude in the human genome Scientific Reports, 6 DOI: 10.1038/srep21198

ResearchBlogging.orgSabeti, P. (2006). Positive Natural Selection in the Human Lineage Science, 312 (5780), 1614-1620 DOI: 10.1126/science.112430

ResearchBlogging.orgGingras, B., Honing, H., Peretz, I., Trainor, L., & Fisher, S. (2015). Defining the biological bases of individual differences in musicality Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 370 (1664), 20140092-20140092 DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2014.0092

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