Harry Potters wizardry lies in his genes

December 21st, 2007 - 3:04 pm ICT by admin  

London, Dec 21 (ANI): Ever wondered why Harry Potter has such great magical skills despite his not being a pure-blood, or why direct descendants of Slytherin can speak to snakes through parseltongue? Well, scientists from the Oxford University have explained the fact behind the Potter fiction, by highliting the role of genetic factors in the passing down of magical abilities.

Based on an analysis of wizardry in the Harry Potter novels, the team at the Oxford’s Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, has proposed that “magic shows strong evidence of heritability.”

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows provides a lot of valuable information about magical families that strongly suggests a role for genetic factors,” the BMJ quoted Dr Julian Knight, a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow, as saying.

“For example, magic exists in at least seven generations of the Black family and at least three generations in others. We also see twins - the Patil and Weasley twins - with the same magical abilities, she added.

The scientists discovered that just like we inherit pairs of genes - one copy from each our parents - genetics can influence magical abilties in three basic ways - if magical skill depends on just one copy of a version of a gene it is said to be dominant, and two, it is recessive.

Moreover, the Oxford team thinks that magical genes are activated by a so called epigenetic mechanism, that does not directly has an effect on DNA but can turn genes on and off down generations.

An earlier study at Melbourne’s Murdoch Children’s Research Institute by claimed that magical abilities depend on a recessive version of a gene i.e. all wizards and witches have two copies of the wizard “W” gene, distinguishing it from the ordinary M, or Muggle, version.

However, the Oxford team suggests that this analysis is one-dimensional.

Instead of relying on one gene, the scientists believe that enchanted skills can differ across a spectrum of strength, depending on the combined influence of a prominentgene for magic, which is set on or off according to epigenetic effects, and altered by the influence of a number of genes, along with the environment.

There appear to be three magical skills that are conferred by specific genes, according to the team.

“One of these is the capability to speak to snakes (parseltongue), known to be only a feature of those who are direct descendants of Slytherin. Another is to be a seer; Sybill Trelawney, although not perfect, has this ability, and her great-great-grandmother was also extremely gifted in this respect, the authors said.

Lastly, being a metamorphmagus (the ability to change one’s physical appearance) is an ability that Nymphadora Tonks passed on to her son,” they added.

They also suggest that there are some candidate genes, that because of their reported association with speech and language, promote mutations at the FOXP2 gene, already linked with Muggle language skills.

This phenomena could thus account for the rare magical ability to speak parseltongue while variants in a gene linked with hair colour, the MC1R gene, may explain Tonks’ hair-changing abilities.

However, the authors add an important warning, saying: “Without population based ascertainment to confirm the points listed above we cannot be completely sure as to the correctness of our hypothesis, but using the information available we can be certain that some aspects of magical ability are heritable.”

The study is published in the British Medical Journal. (ANI)

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