Saturday, October 8, 2011

Genetic counseling for your paranormally gifted/cursed characters

Genes are amazing.  They are the inherited reason for why you might be blonde (okay, you can change that) or blue-eyed (okay, you can change that too with some colored contacts, if you so desire), or left-handed (I am, and as inconvenient as it has sometimes been, I'm glad I grew up not being forced to change).   We try to change many things about ourselves, fighting what's "in our genes" with varying degrees of success.  Other traits you can't change, or might not even know exist, just might be in your genetic makeup. 

Perhaps even magical or paranormal traits?

Well, why not?  It happens all the time --  in fiction anyway.  Think of the beloved television series Bewitched.  In the case of the children of mortal Darrin Stevens and the witch Samantha, Tabitha inherited her mother's magic, but their son, Adam, did not.   How did this happen?  Wouldn't you know it, I can't find any scientific studies on this (yet), but there's another magical franchise you might have heard of where this is considered....Harry Potter anyone?

Apparently, I'm not the only one to ponder the genetics of paranormal traits.  The National Institute of Health (NIH) had the bright idea to use popular fiction as a medium to explain Mendelian Genetics.  Here, at NIH's U.S. National Library of Medicine site, they give a lesson plan for teachers using Genetic Traits in Harry Potter.  Also, here's a link to a 2003 article found in the science section of the British newspaper, The Telegraph, The genes that make muggles of most of us, Conrad Lichtenstein, professor of molecular biology at Queen Mary, University of London, examines inherited magic.

More questions...

If we suppose that, yes, magic is inherited (skip over the how's for now), then many of the  personal considerations for the "risk" of inheriting magic would be the same as those for inheriting a "normal" genetic trait.   This would depend, however, on whether magic was seen as a curse or a gift.  Returning to the premise of Bewitched, Darrin Stevens, after all, viewed magical ability as more of a curse than a gift.   The charm of the show was that no matter how frustrated the poor guy became, in the end it didn't matter -- he adjusted because he loved his magically gifted family.  Still, it makes me wonder, would Darrin and Samantha have benefited from some genetic counseling?   Would they want to know the chances of their child inheriting magic?  Or would they choose not to know?

Interesting stuff. Can you imagine the "what if" possibilities leading off from a story and topic such as this? When I think about the real-life gene disorders, it doesn't seem such a leap to imagine other inherited traits.

For instance, one such inherited gene that has a historical record is the blood-clotting disorder hemophilia,also known as "The Royal Disease" because it spread to the royal families of Europe through Queen Victoria's descendants. It's a fascinating story that I'd heard about before, but have became more familiar with recently in my college Genetics class. If you don't have a textbook (what?), the Internet has endless information, of course. I can, and did, get lost exploring the historical consequences of this inherited disease, especially the tragic Russian line -- the Romanovs. (See: Alexis' Hemophilia: The Triangle Affair of Nicholas II, Alexandra, and Rasputin)

Also, not mentioned in my textbook, there is some interesting speculation on the origin of the hemophilia gene that suddenly appeared without apparent reason in Victoria. Mutation or something else? Victoria's Secret: Who was Queen Victoria's real father?

But I digress.  Where was I?  Oh, yes, inherited paranormal genes.  Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction! 

For more reading on hemophilia (without getting too technical, but with pedigree charts), go to:  Hemophilia: The Royal Disease  (Note:  Sorry, but if you get to the end and wonder about the answers to the questions, you'll just have to take Genetics!)

4 comments:

  1. I found this really fascinating--partly because I love genealogy and have spent a lot of years tracing my family tree. And partly because I'm intrigued by how easy it would be to "inherit" certain traits, even paranormal ones. Or maybe they're just paranormal NOW. :) Maybe they'll mutate to the point that we all have these superhero abilities!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Melissa A. JohnsonOctober 11, 2011 at 9:02 AM

    Donna, I think I was intrigued with genealogy first too and the genetics side of things just added a whole bunch of possibilities! I've always liked to do family trees for my characters (just to keep who's who straight!), only now I'm experimenting with pedigrees and Punnett squares for my characters. Of course, it's getting complicated, so I may have created a monster and need to go back to the drawing board. LOL

    ReplyDelete
  3. Really like your web sites particulars! Undoubtedly a beautiful provide of data that is extraordinarily helpful.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you, Counseling Jacksonville. :) I do hope some of my info is useful...or at least links to something useful. LOL

    ReplyDelete

My Blog List