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Genetic link to navigational skill found

BALTIMORE, Feb. 2 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers say genes play a role in the navigational skill of "reorientation."

Study leader Barbara Landau of The John Hopkins University in Baltimore says reorientation is a skill shared by human toddlers, rats, birds and fish, and involves the ability to mentally visualize surroundings and figure out location.

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Landau and colleagues tested people with a rare genetic disorder -- Williams syndrome -- and found they cannot use this basic navigational skill. Named for its discoverer -- Dr. J.C.P. Williams of New Zealand -- the syndrome occurs when a small amount of genetic material is missing from one human chromosome.

People who have the syndrome show extreme sociability and verbal adeptness but have difficulties assembling simple puzzles and copying basic patterns.

"Although we are quite far from understanding the links between the specific genes that are missing in Williams syndrome and the behavior they show, such as failure to reorient, it is clear that the missing genes ultimately have some effect on the brain," Landau said in a statement. "Our evidence is the first to directly show a substantial deficit in this reorientation system that is caused by missing genes in humans."

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The study findings are published in the early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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