The Witching Hour is a wizard rock radio programme. During regular seasons it airs on the Whitman College radio station, 90.5 FM Walla Walla, and streams online at KWCW.net. Find us on Facebook, on Twitter, or in iTunes!
I just wanted to give you all an update about what’s going on over here at The Witching Hour- as a college radio show, we are on hiatus currently for summer vacation. However, we still have a few podcasts from Season 8 to edit and post, so those should be popping up throughout the summer! Come September, we will be back on air for Season 9 (wow that’s a large number), featuring Anu and our new witch Erin! Have a magical summer and let us know if you have any ideas for shows you’d like us to consider for the upcoming season!
Hello dear listeners,
This is the assignment from my evolutionary developmental biology class that I read on air, if you want to read it. I have no idea if it actually makes sense or not, but at least the figures are cute, right? xo
The Magic Gene from ‘Harry Potter’ Explained by Evo Devo
By Anu Lingappa
In Harry Potter’s wizarding world, a range of morphological phenotypes from different phyla all possess magical abilities due to the expression of a single magic gene. In humans, only a select group of individuals can do magic. Gene duplication, canalization, posttranslational modification, and complex regulatory networks are all possible mechanisms for how the expression of this gene differs between species and within populations.
In a 2007 interview J. K. Rowling, author of the universally popular Harry Potter books, stated that within the wizarding world one’s ability to perform magic comes from the presence of a single magic gene1. If magic can be reduced to a heritable trait, its evolution and development in animals may be tracked and quantified.
The range of magical creatures is diverse, featuring a distribution of phenotypes that encompasses all extremes from fire-breathing dragons to tiny magical insects that cause levitation when they bite. Magic behaves differently even between morphologically similar animals such as humans and house-elves, as house-elves can do magic humans can’t and vice versa. Rowling specified that one gene controls magic, it’s unlikely the same magic gene would have evolved independently in multiple diverse phenotypes using a homologous pathway. If the magic trait only developed once, it would have been present in a common ancestor of all magical species.
Gene duplication2 could be a possible mechanism for the range of diversity expressed by the magic gene despite its monophyletic origin. Duplication of the gene would allow mutations to alter the gene, directing it to develop new features while maintaining the original function on the copy. After duplication, the magic gene would develop differently depending on unique mutations that arise within each lineage. This was seen in the development of the antifreeze protein in worms3, and if applied to the ancestral magic gene, it would create different versions of the gene, each controlling different magical outcomes.
Figure 1 | Proposed phylogenetic tree for divergence of the magic gene.
As the ancestral magic gene transforms, divergence occurs. Shown is the phylogenetic development and divergences of the gene in wizards, as it goes from the ancestral form, to vertebrates, to humanoids, to humans.
The magical gene would inevitably be involved in regulatory networks, affecting and being affected by the surrounding proteins. Repressors4 or activators could regulate the gene’s manifestation by determining its levels of expression. Posttranslational modification is another way expression can be regulated, altering and controlling expression without supporting any mutations in the gene itself5. As mutations of the magic gene could be incredibly deleterious, a buffering process like canalization would be vital to ensure magical mutations are kept under control. Canalization, as proposed by Queitsch et al,6 suppresses phenotypic expression of many deleterious mutations, and it would have no effect on the regulatory pathways or posttranslational modification.
Figure 2 | Differential expression of the magic gene between muggles and wizards.
Differential expression of the magic gene leads to varied level of the trait in the phenotype in individuals. Shown is a model to explain how regulation can determine why some humans have magic and some don’t. The magic gene is repressed in muggles, but a change in the regulatory pathway allows it to be expressed in wizards.
Humans are the only species to have both magical and nonmagical phenotypes within a population. Muggles who cannot do magic are not a different species from their magical counterparts by the biological species concept, since they can reproduce to form healthy, fertile offspring. Additionally, there are cases when muggle families produce magical children and cases when magical families produce squibs. By following the theory of a monophyletic origin, the common ancestor of muggles and wizards would have had the magic gene. Perhaps the mutations that differentiate muggles from wizards aren’t on the magical gene itself, but in its regulatory networks. If the magic trait in humans is not expressed due to repressors or posttranslational modification, a person’s ability to perform magic could be attributed to factors that allow the magic gene to be expressed, rather than its sheer presence. By this mechanism all humans are magical.
Good thinking! Anu the scientist says “that makes total sense.” Thanks for chiming in with your ideas! We love discussing this stuff.
Good point, anon- but are there spells that they use while stirring? It seems like they would have mentioned them at some point? Or maybe its nonverbal magic.