The first large-scale genomic study of musicality -; published on the cover of today’s nature of human behavior -; identified 69 genetic variants associated with beat synchronization, meaning the ability to move in sync with the beat of the music.
An international team of scientists, including the Vanderbilt Genetics Institute and 23andMe, demonstrated that the human ability to synchronize to a musical beat (as a Beat Sync) is partially encoded in the human genome.
Many of the genes associated with clock synchronization are involved in central nervous system function, including genes expressed very early in brain development and in areas underlying auditory and motor skills, Co- Senior Author Reyna Gordon, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Otorhinolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery and Co-Director of the Vanderbilt Music Cognition Lab.
“The rhythm is not only influenced by a single gene, but by many hundreds of genes,” said Gordon. “Knocking, clapping and dancing to the beat of the music is at the core of our human musicality.”
The study also discovered that beat synchronization shares some of its genetic architecture with other traits, including biological rhythms such as walking, breathing, and circadian patterns.
“This is a novel basis for understanding the biology underlying the relationship between musicality and other health traits,” said co-senior author Lea Davis, Associate Professor of Medicine.”
23andMe’s large research dataset provided study data from more than 600,000 customers who consented to participate in the research and enabled researchers to identify genetic alleles that vary in conjunction with participants’ ability to be clock synchronized.
“The large number of consenting study participants provided our group with a unique opportunity to capture even small genetic signals,” said David Hinds, PhD, research associate and statistical geneticist at 23andMe. “These results represent a leap forward in scientific understanding of the links between genetics and musicality.”
First author Maria Niarchou, PhD, an assistant science professor at the medical school, said the study results “made new connections between the genetic and neural architecture of musical rhythm, thereby improving our understanding of how our genomes tune our brains to the beat of the music.” .”
The work was supported in part by an NIH Director’s New Innovator Award #DP2HD098859. Visit the study’s FAQ to learn more.
Vanderbilt University Medical Center