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amoebic_vodka

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Oh dear [Sep. 15th, 2005|11:42 am]
amoebic_vodka
As the debate over whether "humanities graduate" is an insult or not continues at www.badscience.net, Nature features a letter on the genetics of Harry Potter.

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v437/n7057/full/437318d.html

"[A previous letter recommends] the use of analogies as tools for introducing young people to scientific concepts. Taking their example from J. K. Rowling's stories about the young wizard Harry Potter, they suggest that wizarding is a monogenic trait, with the wizard allele (W) recessive to the muggle allele (M). We believe the assumption that wizarding has a genetic basis to be deterministic and unsupported by available evidence.

Following Craig and colleagues' analogy, Hermione, as a muggle-born witch, must have WM parents. However, as Rowling fans could point out, Hermione's parents were muggle dentists who lack any family history of wizarding. It's true, of course, that chance may not have thrown up a witch or wizard for many generations, or that any who did have magical powers may have kept them secret to avoid a witch hunt."

Er...how very important. It's one thing to look at the science behind science fiction, quite another to look at the science behind magic in a children's fantasy book. Even if it is the greatest piece of literature ever written.

Just in case we're not being hypocritical enough already, we do note that JK Rowling never tries to explain the genetics behind the inheritance of magical ability in her book. We also noticed that the wizards and witches in the Harry Potter books have different levels of magical ability, suggesting that if it is genetic, the trait is polygenetic (like height) rather than controlled by one gene.

Perhaps we should write to Nature to tell them this rather than putting it in a blog nobody reads? We're not sure if they would print a letter from some drunk single-celled organisms though. Sob.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: cigogne
2005-09-15 07:19 pm (UTC)
Hello, would you mind if I friend you? My flist is full of humanities graduates and, much as I love them all, I could really use some scientifically literate complaining on my friends page.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: amoebic_vodka
2005-09-15 08:04 pm (UTC)

oooh friends

Sure, we don't mind. We are just mildly suprised that anyone wants to read the ranting of a group of drunk amoebas. Yay.

*goes back to swim in vodka to celebrate*
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2005-09-18 06:11 pm (UTC)
Well, there are a couple (http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0091886570/) of (http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0091888050/) books (http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0091898234/) based on a best-selling fantasy series which do a pretty good job of looking at science... (although I must confess to not having read the third one as yet)
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From: amoebic_vodka
2005-09-20 12:41 pm (UTC)
We've only read one Discworld book. We're far too busy being inebriated. We were going to wait until we had at least got around to reading a few more before reading those.

We still think that teaching children about Mendelian inheritance using Harry Potter is silly. Not least because magical ability does not follow the right pattern. If we had them, we think we would have far more fun learning about genetics from sticking our tongues out.
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From: (Anonymous)
2006-01-02 12:25 pm (UTC)

wizard paternity testing

Hmm. Sounds as if Mr Granger might not be Hermione's biological father.
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From: amoebic_vodka
2006-01-02 04:27 pm (UTC)

Re: wizard paternity testing

Or JK Rowling isn't a geneticist...

Or that both her parents have some magical ability alleles, but not enough for it to show. Taking height as an example of a polygenetic trait, while uncommon, short parents can produce tall children.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2006-01-02 05:46 pm (UTC)

Re: wizard paternity testing

Well, no, if JKR was a geneticist, she probably wouldn't be a squillionaire, would she?

The wizard gene could be monogenetic though. A number of monogenetic metabolic diseases exhibit phenotypic variability - a very wide clinical spectrum of severity (possibly due to variable degrees of ER retention and degradation -Ron & Horowitz: HMG 2005 14:16) so why can't the aptitude for magic exhibit a similar spectrum of variability?
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Well, no, if JKR was a geneticist, she probably wouldn't be a squillionaire, would she?

The wizard gene could be monogenetic though. A number of monogenetic metabolic diseases exhibit phenotypic variability - a very wide clinical spectrum of severity (possibly due to variable degrees of ER retention and degradation -Ron & Horowitz: HMG 2005 14:16) so why can't the aptitude for magic exhibit a similar spectrum of variability? <I can't believe I'm even thinking about this!>

Incidentally, how do you amoeba manage to survive in all that vodka? :)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2009-08-16 07:38 pm (UTC)

Nature's sorting hat..

Hermione could have obtained the wizard gene through a random mutation. Right?
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