Research suggests that genes that affect hearing and cognitive function may play roles in one's musical aptitude; the ability to understand and perceive rhythm, pitch, timbre, tone durations and formal structure in music.

"The results show that genomic approaches can be applied to musical traits, that will, in effect, reveal new biological mechanisms affecting human evolution, brain function and civilization," explained Irma Jarvela from the department of medical genetics at the University of Helsinki, Finland.

The authors explained that extremes in musical aptitude (extreme capacity/no capacity) are rare within a population, with the majority of individuals having moderate aptitude.

"This is a typical feature of a complex trait attributable to several underlying genes and it is influenced to varying degrees by environmental factors, such as exposure to music or musical training," Jarvela added.

Recent genomic approaches have shown that the genes responsible for inner ear development, auditory pathways and neuro-cognitive processes may underlay musical aptitude.

"Several genetic loci associated with musical aptitude have been identified in genome-wide linkage studies, that aim to find genetic variants that due to their proximity are inherited together with musical aptitude," the authors wrote.

Intriguingly, the genome-wide analyses performed in Finnish and Mongolian populations with different music phenotypes and different linkage mapping methods both identified a partly overlapping genetic region.

"The identified loci contained candidate genes that affect inner ear development and neuro-cognitive processes which are necessary traits for music perception," Jarvela noted. It suggests that musical aptitude is an innate ability.

The study appeared in the journal BioEssays.

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