5 Surprising Ways Your Genes Are Secretly Ruining Your Life
We're all at least a smidge restricted by our genes. Five-foot people aren't going to play in the NBA, less conventionally attractive people aren't going to win beauty pageants, we feel a strong compulsion to eat lint and no doctor can explain why -- some parts of our lives are simply out of our control. But while we all know the basic genetic restrictions of body types and hereditary medical conditions, your programming is also messing with you in some far weirder ways. Like how ...
There's A Gene That's Probably Responsible For Bad Drivers
For decades, it was a staple of hack comedians to complain that women and/or various minorities made for terrible drivers. But it turns out that their low-key eugenics streak was right; they were just focusing their complaints in the wrong direction.
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, is secreted to whatever area of the brain is responsible for the task you're currently performing. It helps brain cells communicate, and it also shores up memory retention. But about 30 percent of Americans have a genetic variant that limits the secretion of BDNF, and previous studies have found that smaller portions of their brains are stimulated (they also don't recover from strokes as quickly). So researchers decided to test out their driving ability to determine the practical repercussions of all this.
And indeed, over two tests done over the course of four days, participants with the variant both performed worse and remembered less. There are some caveats, as the study used a simulator and only involved 29 people. But researchers were still surprised that there was a clear connection between the genetic variation and poorer performance, given the incredible complexity of basically everything your brain ever does. Just keep in mind that it's not like the people with the BDNF deficiency are mouth-breathing morons. In fact, the variant helps people resist neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's and MS. So adjust your hilarious routine to "most people drive and get brain diseases like this, but people with fewer brain secretions drive and get sick like this " accordingly.
Trouble Falling Asleep Or Waking Up Can Be Genetic
The world is not built for night owls. Jobs and classes start at around eight, many businesses close in the evening, and if you routinely get pizza delivered to your place at two in the morning, people start to think that you're a serial killer. If you're the type to not drag yourself out of bed until 11, you're pegged as undisciplined and lazy, even though in the end you're putting in as many hours as anyone else.
But there's growing evidence that no, your sleep schedule isn't merely a preference you can change, and that yes, it's perfectly normal to be up until 3 a.m. playing video games. People who stay up late and struggle to wake up in the morning have a mutation in their CRY1 gene, which affects their circadian rhythm. That rhythm is what regulates your sleeping and waking patterns, and those with this mutation struggle to fall asleep and thus end up staying awake for around two hours longer than those without the mutation.
The mutation is associated with -- although far from the only cause of -- delayed sleep phase disorder. DSPD means longer nights, tougher mornings, and a connection with anxiety, depression, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Oh, and DSPD affects up to 10 percent of the population, although it can be managed through dedicated exposure to daylight and other sleep strategies. So let's make a deal: People who stay up late will stop suggesting that the workday begin at 11:30 if everyone else stops accusing them of being groggy only because they couldn't tear themselves away from YouTube all night.
Genetics Play A Factor In Whether You Like Cilantro
Some people hate cilantro, while others for some reason love the taste of dusty soap drenched in wolf piss. But it turns out there's room for both sides to be right, and that the people who claim that cilantro offers them a fresh citrus treat aren't necessarily lunatics trying to invent a justification for their desire to eat mold-covered pennies.
A pair of studies have linked a person's opinion on cilantro to genes related to odor detection, the taste of bitter foods, and the detection of pungent compounds. For example, a small DNA variation in olfactory receptor genes is linked with people who find that cilantro tastes soapy. Broadly, this may be why cilantro is ubiquitous in the culinary efforts of some cultures, while others avoid it like a plague coated in unusually tart battery acid.
Remember that this is a rough correlation, not a guaranteed explanation. Our tastes are complicated, so you can hate cilantro even without the generic variation. Conversely, those with the relevant variations can still grow to love it, although it's unclear why they'd want to invest time in acquiring a taste for stagnant nuclear plant wastewater.
The Ability To Hear Musical Pitch Is Inherited
Perfect pitch is the ability to create or identity any musical note free of context (as in hearing a single note and immediately pegging it as a b-flat, not hearing a single note and immediately pegging it as the opening of "All Star"). While hardly a requirement to be a musician ...
... perfect pitch is associated with both musical genius and lazy biopic shorthand to explain how brilliant the subject is. We've long known that it exists and that relatively few people have it, but we've never been sure about what causes it.
But an increasing body of research suggests that while musical training (especially early exposure to training) can help you develop your sense of pitch, there's also a crucial genetic component. Perfect pitch is "associated with an unusually large memory span for speech sounds," which essentially means that certain people are great at memorizing audio, a skill that differs from our ability to memorize visuals. "Highly heritable differences in auditory neural functions" are also a factor, which is a fancy way of saying that if your parents suck at karaoke, you're not going to warble out "Don't Stop Believing" any better than them. At least they won't be able to notice how terrible you are.
Several Different Genetic Variations Will Attract Mosquitoes To You
Have you ever been out hiking -- or more likely, drinking beer on a patio -- and noticed that mosquitoes were swarming you while ignoring your friends? Then you're one of the lucky 20ish percent of humanity that mosquitoes find especially enticing. There have long been guesses as to why, ranging from blood type to exercise level to clothing color to diet.
It appears, however, that odor plays the greatest role.
By studying some no doubt under-compensated test subjects who agreed to expose their hands to mosquitoes, scientists found that while identical twins (whose genetics are generally, well, identical) were bitten at about the same rate, some fraternal twins were bitten far less than their unlucky siblings. The difference was theorized to be linked to genes that science believes control odor cues in order to deter incest. Yes, our miraculous human bodies, with their almost impossibly complicated programming, use the same trait that subconsciously discourages you from wanting to bone your uncle to determine how likely mosquitoes are to snack on you. Truly, the wonders of scientific discovery know no bounds.
There may be other genetic factors as well, and this finding doesn't mean that mosquito repellent is now as simple as slapping an extra layer of deodorant on, hoping you avoid mosquitoes that are into some freaky shit, and calling it a day. But additional research into the odor factor could help develop more effective repellents (current repellents tend to lose their efficacy after a few hours as mosquitoes become immune to the smell). That would making camping more tolerable, and more importantly, help combat diseases like malaria and dengue. Although those would be stopgap measures while Cracked's Science Division develops Operation Trick All The Mosquitoes Into Flying Directly Into The Sun By Making It Smell Real Juicy.
Wouldn't it be relaxing to just float away in a gene pool? Ba-dum-TSH
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For more, check out 5 Traits You Think You Control (But Totally Don't) and 5 Problems You Can't Blame On How You Were Raised.
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