Engineering and autism may share genetic link, study finds

Child prodigies and their autistic family members may share a genetic link, according to results posted online for the April issue of Human heredity.

“We were very excited,” Ohio State University lead researcher Joanne Ruthsatz told PBS NewsHour of the find.

“It was like, there you go, here’s autism and wonders together and they have a significant peak on chromosome 1, where they’re significantly different from their unaffected family members.”

For the study, Ruthsatz and her colleagues at Ohio State University, as well as researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus examined DNA extracts from five child prodigies and their autistic family members. They found something similar on chromosome 1, the first of 46 chromosomes humans typically have.

“This finding suggests that a locus on chromosome 1 increases the likelihood of both prodigy and autism in these families,” the study said.

Each of the prodigies in Ruthsatz’s latest study had between one and five family members diagnosed with some form of autism.

Now that the researchers have found this similarity, they are in the process of performing full genome sequencing to see what in a genie’s DNA can prevent them from becoming autistic.

Ruthsatz told PBS NewsHour that she believes prodigies can produce a protein that helps them contain autism deficits and allow their talents to shine.

This hunt for protective genetic mutations is part of a fairly new movement in genetic research. Previously, researchers focused on the bad genes that cause disease, not the good ones that can thwart the bad ones.

Towards the end of 2014, The New York Times wrote about this new research trend and the work of The Resilience project. The project and others like it looked for protective mutations in order to develop drugs to mimic their behaviors and fight diseases like early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis.

Ruthsatz hopes to complete full genome sequencing in a matter of months and find the protective prodigy protein she has sought since the late 1990s.

“If we find the prodigy gene… it will be released immediately,” said Ruthsatz.

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