Science Student Unravels the Mystery of Harry Potter Magic
  • Videos
  • Music
  • New & Trending
  • Games
  • Community
  • Shop
  • Categories
Print Friendly and PDF Version

Aug 16, 2012

Science Student Unravels the Mystery of Harry Potter Magic

Just when you thought that the Harry Potter phenomenon had been played out, biology student Andrea Klenotiz seeks to explain wizard genetics.
Why was Hermione considered the brightest witch of her generation when she was born to muggle (non-wizard) parents? Why was Neville Longbottom originally thought to be a squib (non-wizard born to wizard parents) although he came from a long line of talented wizards? In a letter to J.K. Rowling posted on Tumblr, Klenotiz sought to answer some of the questions that have puzzled Harry Potter fans.

Wizards and Occam’s Razor

Speculation abounds on the Internet as to where magic comes from. The best way to sort through it is to apply the principle of Occam’s Razor, which says that the best choice among competing explanations is the simplest one that makes the fewest assumptions. Klenotiz applies this law to the world of Harry Potter and concludes that DNA mutations in muggles produced the first wizards and witches. Over several generations, they forgot about their muggle heritage and considered themselves to be of wizard lineage. Today, when a Hermione appears, people wonder at how a powerful wizard could be muggle-born in the way that ancient Greeks must have puzzled over how Athena sprang from the head of Zeus.
The same lens of evolutionary biology casts doubt on the labels of full-blood and half-blood that a few snobbish wizards like to throw around. Half-blood refers to wizards who have both muggle and wizard lineage, and it is more accurate to say that they have a family tree with mutations. When Malfoy insults Hermione by calling her a mudblood, he is using a slur that refers to muggle-born wizards. Malfoy, of course, was wrong: Hermione is better described as the first in a new line of witches.

The Modern Genetics of Wizardry

How did DNA mutations for magic come about in the ancient non-magic world? Klenotiz invokes Non-Mendelian inheritance patterns that don’t follow Mendel’s laws for straightforward trait inheritance. In Non-Mendelian inheritance, the unexpected can occur, such as the birth of wizards.
The genetic wizardry lies in the phenomenon of trinucleotide repeat expansion. Nucleotides, the building blocks of DNA, repeat in sequences that are copied to the next generation. One of these sequences is a group of three nucleotides that repeats, and if the sequence repeats too often, it leads to mutations. This is called trinucleotide repeat expansion. Klenotiz speculates that an abnormally high number of repeats led to the mutation we know of as magical abilities.
The abnormal number of repeats can vary and cause the magic gene to express in different ways. Parents with fewer repeats might have a child who is a weaker wizard or even a squib. Squibs, non-magic people born to wizards, have enough of a connection to the magic world that they can function in it. This ability seems to be a weak expression of the magic gene and evidence that this form of it is sometimes carried in a family’s lineage. The magic gene in Neville Longbottom, who was long thought to be a squib, finally expressed itself in his newfound wizardry.
Though scientists have not yet identified the wizardry gene, Klenotiz shows that modern genetics does not rule it out. Maybe the next Harry or Hermione is living next door to you.

Image credit:  Some rights reserved by ursulakm

Author Bio: Chris Keenan is a blogger for GTL DNA, a genetic dna testing company that does not yet have a test for detecting the wizardy gene.