Scientists may have found the first evidence of a molecular genetic link between autism and prodigy.
Based from the findings of the researchers from The Ohio State University and Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, these shared genetic markers take place on chromosome 1, the very first of 46 chromosomes that human beings usually have.
Initially, Joanne Ruthsatz, assistant professor from Department of Psychology and Pediatrics at the Ohio State University, also the lead researcher of the study, and her colleagues checked snippets of DNA from five child prodigies and their family members. The results showed that half of the prodigies had a first or second degree relative diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Child prodigies were defined as rare individuals with an exceptional working memory and unique attentional skills and each had been recognized either on an international or national level for a specific skill, like music or mathematics. All subjects took examinations to certify their exceptional skills. These characteristics of exceptional memories and attention to detail are also displayed by children diagnosed with autism.
To check why these two groups of children share certain characteristics, scientists implemented a family based genome wide linkage analysis on the five child prodigies and their extended families. They extracted saliva samples from the five prodigies, and they also chose from four to fourteen relatives of each family of the five prodigies to get saliva samples. DNA was then extracted from the saliva of the chosen subjects and the scientists sequenced the exome, the segment of DNA known to contain 1 to 2 percent of genes that create proteins.
Immediately after the researchers have discovered this similarity on chromosome 1, they are now planning to perform a full genome sequencing done to the prodigies and children with ASD to differentiate what makes up the DNA of a prodigy that may inhibit the child from being autistic.
Ruthsatz told in an interview that she believes prodigies may have been producing a protein that assists them in restraining ASD deficits and permit their remarkable talents to shine through.
"Prodigies seem to have some protective genes that are saving them from the deficits associated with autism and only allowing the talent you see in savants to shine through. That's what we're looking to identify," Ruthsatz said.
This scientific search for protective genetic mutations is a start of a trending campaign in the field of genetics study. Back then, researchers concentrated on the bad genes that initiate diseases, now they focused on the good ones that may stop the defective genes.
"If we find the prodigy gene... it will be published immediately," Ruthsatz confirmed.
Photo: Andy Doyle | Flickr