Same Genes Rule Math, Reading Skills
Sept. 26, 2012 --
Genetic mutations and advanced technology can give comic book characters super-human abilities. And the same holds true in real life. Sure, humans don't yet have the ability to shape-shift or walk through walls or, as is the case with Wolverine, heal in seconds from just about any injury. But there are a few other super powers that are within practical reach (and no shortage of people claiming to possess super powers). While you wait for "The Wolverine" to hit theaters, with a release date set for summer 2013, why not explore some examples of super human powers and abilities in the real world?
Courtesy of University of Utah Department of
Mindreading Charles Xavier, the leader of the X-Men, has the ability to read minds. While no human has so far demonstrably proven this ability, we have developed technology that could read minds. This mind-reading device was developed by researchers at the University of Utah to help speechless patients form words. Words can be read directly from patients' minds by attaching microelectrode grids to the surface of the brain and learning which signals mean which words, a development that will ultimately help such patients talk again.
Magnetism He's no Magneto, but according to his father, Bogdan, a 7-year-old Serbian boy, has the ability to attract metal objects to him. In fact, his "magnetism" appears to extend to non-metal objects as well. Of course, Bogdan's magnetism hasn't yet been scientifically proven. In fact, it's most likely that he's just a little overweight and oils in his skin make him sticky.
Teleportation Azazel, one of the antagonists in "X-Men: First Class," has the ability to teleport himself and others from one place to another. In reality, we haven't come close to that level of transport ability. However, scientists have successfully teleported light and data over a stretch of 10 miles.
Flight Flying is certainly the ultimate superpower. But until a radioactive pigeon bites you, we'll all just have to rely on technology to get us airborne. Swiss adventurer Yves Rossy has taken solo flight to the extreme with his custom-designed wingsuit. Recently, Rossy even took his jetpack for a spin over the Grand Canyon. Reaching speeds of 190 miles per hour, this jetman could keep up with some of the fastest fictional fliers.
Muscle Mass You wouldn't want to see this dog when she gets angry. Wendy may look like a pitbull but is in fact a whippet with a rare genetic mutation that makes this dog more muscular. Although this dog is gifted with twice the muscle mass as average-sized whippets, Wendy has the same size heart, lungs and other organs.
Courtesy Raytheon Company
Iron Man OK, Tony Stark may be from a different franchise, but his Iron Man suit has become inspiration for military and tech manufacturers testing their own brands of exoskeleton suits. These real-life iron man suits have been designed for applications as mundane as climbing up a flight of stairs and as complex as protecting a soldier on a battlefield.
Echolocation Like the superhero Daredevil, Ben Underwood "sees" with his ears rather than his eyes by employing sonar. By emitting clicking noises with the back of his tongue, Kish is able to determine the distance and a rough outline of the shape of a nearby object. This allows him to navigate without the aid of a cane or seeing eye dog. Other blind people have also developed this ability, so this technique is not unique to Kish.
Soothsaying No one person can predict the future, but a recently developed software program used in Baltimore and Philadelphia is predicting which individuals on probation or parole are most likely to murder and to be murdered. Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. are using or planning on using the program, and the software has already helped reduce the murder rate in some police districts.
A common set of genes play a role in learning to read and do math, with tiny variants influencing a child's skills in these tasks, according to a study published Tuesday.
But this ability is not just gene-driven, as schooling and help from parents are also vital contributors, its authors cautioned.
Early numeracy and literacy are known to run in some families, but the genes that affect this have until now been mainly unknown.
Scientists delved into a data pool called the Twins Early Development Study, which enrolled 12-year-olds from nearly 2,800 British families.
The team compared twins and unrelated children to see how they performed in tests for maths and reading comprehension and fluency, and then matched the children's genomes.
Between 10 percent and half of the genes involved in reading were also involved in math, they found. Tiny variants in these shared genes influence skill level, the study said.
"Similar collections of subtle DNA differences are important for reading and maths," said Oliver Davis, a geneticist at University College London.
"However, it's also clear just how important our life experience is in making us better at one or the other. It's this complex interplay of nature and nurture as we grow up that shapes who we are."
Fellow researcher Robert Plomin, a professor at King's College London, said the study was the first to estimate the impact from DNA alone on learning ability.
But, he stressed, the genetic variants that were identified were not specific "literacy or numeracy" genes.
Instead, they formed part of a more complex mechanism in which many genes each exercised a small, but combined, effect on learning ability.
"Children differ genetically in how easy or difficult they find learning, and we need to recognize and respect these individual differences," said Plomin.
"Finding such strong genetic influence does not mean that there is nothing we can do if a child finds learning difficult," he said.
"Heritability does not imply that anything is set in stone -- it just means it may take more effort from parents, schools and teachers to bring the child up to speed."
The paper is published in the journal Nature Communications.