Science Scoops: Forget Your Homework? Blame Mom!

Or Dad. Take your pick. Yes, a new study shows that forgetfulness may run in the family. That's right. Dr. Daniel Weinberger (National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, MD) has discovered that a gene long known to be involved in memory actually comes in two types—and which type you have may decide whether you'll remember what I've just said.

The “good” memory gene—the one that plays a role in building and retaining memory—is known as BDNF (if you really must know, BDNF stands for “Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor”…happy?). The genetic variation of BDNF, known as metBDNF (don't ask) apparently does the opposite. Weinberger says that 15 to 20 percent of the population carries the metBDNF gene.

To test his hypothesis, Weinberger created a series of memory tests. In one, more than 600 adults were simply asked to recall story events. As expected, people with the metBDNF gene performed worse than those with the BDNF.

If you have the metBDNF gene, don't despair; the study did not find that metBDNF was related to all types of memory—just so-called “episodic memory” that involves recalling past events. Besides, Weinberger says, metBDNF may have some beneficial effects—although what those might be haven't been discovered yet.

Vocabulary

  • gene: A tiny part of an animal or plant cell that determines a characteristic that will be passed on to the animal's or plant's offspring.
  • hypothesis: An educated guess about why something happens.

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Activity

  1. In Lesson 3, you learned about how a child can inherit certain traits, such as eye and hair color, from a parent. But what about other inherited traits, such as a good (or a bad) memory? Think about a physical or mental ability that you have. Maybe you can run very fast. Maybe you are really good at science! What is one physical or mental ability that you have that you would like to pass on to your children someday? Write a brief paragraph explaining the trait, and why you think it is an important trait to pass on.