NCBI ROFL: Origins of magic: review of genetic and epigenetic effects.

By ncbi rofl | May 27, 2010 7:00 pm

potterbookIt’s BMJ week (again) on NCBI ROFL! After the success of our first BMJ week, we decided to devote another week to fun articles from holiday issues of the British Medical Journal.  Enjoy!

“Objective: To assess the evidence for a genetic basis to magic. Setting: Harry Potter novels of J K Rowling. Participants: Muggles, witches, wizards, and squibs. Interventions: Limited. Main outcome measures: Family and twin studies, magical ability, and specific magical skills. Results: Magic shows strong evidence of heritability, with familial aggregation and concordance in twins. Evidence suggests magical ability to be a quantitative trait. Specific magical skills, notably being able to speak to snakes, predict the future, and change hair colour, all seem heritable. Conclusions: A multilocus model with a dominant gene for magic might exist, controlled epistatically by one or more loci, possibly recessive in nature. Magical enhancers regulating gene expression may be involved, combined with mutations at specific genes implicated in speech and hair colour such as FOXP2 and MCR1.”

Bonus from the full text:


Assortative mating—people tending to mate with others like themselves
Chromatin—complex of DNA and protein that constitute chromosomes
Epigenetics—heritable changes in gene function not involving changes in DNA sequence
Epistasis—action of one gene modified by another
Founder effect—increase in gene frequency when a population has only a small number of original settlers (founders), one or more of whom had that gene
HapMap project—haplotype (series of correlated alleles) map of the human genome, currently being analysed in populations of African, Asian, and European ancestry
House elves—human-like creatures with distinctive magical abilities who are bound to, and act as servants for, several magical families
Histones—main protein components of chromatin
Metamorphmagus—someone with the ability to change their physical appearance
Muggle—someone with no magical abilities
Squib—someone with virtually no magical abilities who comes from a magical family
Parseltongue—ability to talk to snakes
Pureblood—someone whose ancestors all possess magical abilities
Seer—someone who can predict the future


Photo: flickr/Jodi Hebert

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About ncbi rofl

NCBI ROFL is the brainchild of two Molecular and Cell Biology graduate students at UC Berkeley and features real research articles from the PubMed database (which is housed by the National Center for Biotechnology information, aka NCBI) that they find amusing (ROFL is a commonly-used internet acronym for "rolling on the floor, laughing"). Follow us on twitter: @ncbirofl


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