Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bad science might be genetic

Flickr Photo from
Chemical Heritage Foundation

If you give a kid a new toy they are going to want to play with it.  Never mind the heaps of older toys they they have, those are yesterday's toys and not worth even considering.  In a similar vein, scientists now have the tools to look at a person's genetic code more closely than they ever have in the past, and they have just got to play with them.

As a case in point, consider the article "Bad Driving May Have Genetic Basis, Study Finds" on Science Daily.  A group of researchers looking at a genetic variant that may play a role in memory decided to give a driving test to a group of 29 people.  There were seven people with this genetic variant in this group and the researchers found that  -
People with a particular gene variant performed more than 20 percent worse on a driving test than people without it -- and a follow-up test a few days later yielded similar results. About 30 percent of Americans have the variant.
So there you have it, the new toys have been used and have decreed that people with this particular genetic variant are worse drivers.  It isn't something they can help, after all, its genetic.

Only, I have to wonder, can this really be the case?  I went and found the study that this article was based on but since I refuse to pay 36 dollars for something like this I am only going what the abstract says and the article on Science Daily.

So I ask myself, what does this gene supposedly do?
This gene variant limits the availability of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor during activity. BDNF keeps memory strong by supporting communication among brain cells and keeping them functioning optimally. When a person is engaged in a particular task, BDNF is secreted in the brain area connected with that activity to help the body respond.
Got that?  A protein plays a role in in keeping memories strong by strengthening the connections between brain cells.  This genetic variant is "limits the availability" of the protein which in turn might have an affect on memory which somehow translated into worse driving skills.  This result is already two thirds of the way to Kevin Bacon

I have to wonder if the researchers have ever heard of the concept of confounding factors.  In a sample of 29 people, isn't it more likely that some (or maybe even most) of group are simply bad drivers?

But wait, it gets even better. The researchers even got to use one of the coolest new toys around, an fMRI  -
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanning during right index finger movement (n = 24) identified activation in a broad sensorimotor network. However, subjects with the polymorphism showed smaller activation volume within several brain regions as compared with subjects without the polymorphism.
So remember, if your brain doesn't light up as much when you twitch your finger, you might have a genetic variant that makes you a bad driver. It couldn't be that being a bad driver makes you a bad driver, there always has to be a genetic reason nowadays.

Kids and their toys.

No comments:

Post a Comment