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Bad driver genes?

By: staff

Date: Saturday, 19. December 2009

Researcher Steven Cramer tested drivers against a gene he suspected could affect their performance - it did.

The test was carried out on a simulator over a 15-lap course with difficult twists and turns. Cramer, a neurology professor at the university of California at Irvine, tested 29 students over the course. They found that drivers who had a gene variant identified by Cramer and his team of researchers performed 30% worse on the course.

The gene variant is associated with reduced secretion of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which helps communication between brain cells and helps memory retention. Of the 29 people who took the driving test, 7 had the gene variant. These individuals did worse on both the original session on the course and a second session of the test conducted 4 days later.

Cramer says, "I'd be curious to know the genetics of people who get into car crashes, ... I wonder if the accident rate is higher for drivers with the variant."

Undoubtedly there will be more research on this, since 29 is a very small sample. and since there is no easy test for the gene variant, large scale test may be difficult to organize.

The good news about the gene, Cramer says, it that it also seems to slow mental decline for people with conditions such as Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease or multiple sclerosis.

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