Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The genetics of tone deafness   posted by p-ter @ 8/07/2007 03:03:00 PM

There's an "old-school" article in the most recent American Journal of Human Genetics on familial aggregation in tone deafness:
Congenital amusia (commonly known as "tone deafness") is a lifelong impairment of music perception that affects 4% of the population. To estimate whether congenital amusia can be genetically transmitted, its prevalence was quantified by direct auditory testing of 71 members of 9 large families of amusic probands, as well as of 75 members of 10 control families. The results confirm that congenital amusia is expressed by a deficit in processing musical pitch but not musical time and also show that the pitch disorder has a hereditary component. In amusic families, 39% of first-degree relatives have the same cognitive disorder, whereas only 3% have it in the control families. The identification of multiplex families with a high relative risk of experiencing a musical pitch deficit (lambda_s = 10.8; 95% confidence interval 8-13.5) enables the mapping of genetic loci for hereditary amusia.
I imagine it's difficult to get money to study this sort of phenotype, but eventually the technology will be cheap enough. I wonder, though, if any sort of "genetic counseling" company (if such a thing exists) would pony up the cash to find genes involved in tone deafness. Offering the ability to test for and select non-tone deaf embryos for IVF could be a lucrative niche market.

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