Common genetic variants associated with beat synchronization identified

The first large-scale genomic study of musicality revealed 69 genetic variations linked with beat synchronization, which denotes the ability to move in time with the beat of the music.

Common genetic variants associated with beat synchronization identified
Reyna Gordon, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery and co-director of the Vanderbilt Music Cognition Lab. Image Credit: Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

The research was featured on the cover of Nature Human Behaviour.

A group of international researchers led by the Vanderbilt Genetics Institute and 23andMe discovered that the ability to move in time with a musical rhythm (known as beat synchronization) is partly coded in the human genome.

Co-senior author Reyna Gordon, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery and co-director of the Vanderbilt Music Cognition Lab says that the majority of the genes linked to beat synchronization are also involved in central nervous system function. This includes genes that are expressed early during brain development and in areas of auditory and motor skills.

Rhythm is not just influenced by a single gene, it is influenced by many hundreds of genes. Tapping, clapping and dancing in synchrony with the beat of music is at the core of our human musicality.”

Reyna Gordon, Associate Professor, Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, Vanderbilt University Medical Center

The research also unearthed that beat synchronization shares a little of its genetic architecture with other traits—biological rhythms like breathing, walking, and circadian patterns.

This is novel groundwork toward understanding the biology underlying how musicality relates to other health traits.”

Lea Davis Study Co-Senior Author and Associate Professor, Medicine, Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Using 23andMe’s huge research dataset, which offered research data from more than 600,000 customers who agreed to take part in the study, enabled scientists to uncover genetic alleles that differ in association with individuals’ beat synchronization abilities.

The large number of consented study participants offered a unique opportunity for our group to capture even small genetic signals. These findings represent a leap forward for scientific understanding of the links between genetics and musicality.”

David Hinds PhD, Research Fellow and Statistical Geneticist, 23andMe

Image Credit: Naeblys/Shutterstock

Image Credit: Naeblys/Shutterstock

The research findings “made new connections between the genetic and neural architecture of musical rhythm, thus improving our understanding of how our genomes tune our brains to the beat of the music,” says study first author Maria Niarchou, PhD, research assistant professor in the Department of Medicine.

Source:
Journal reference:

Niarchou, M., et al. (2022) Genome-wide association study of musical beat synchronization demonstrates high polygenicity. Nature Human Behaviour. doi.org/10.1038/s41562-022-01359-x.

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