The secret to cool high notes in the genes?

An ABCC9 gene mutation that helps the function of collagen and elastin, which are elastic proteins

Common mutations in a specific gene called ABCC9 were found to be correlated with high-pitched vocalization regardless of age or gender. [사진=게티이미지뱅크]

Could the voice be hereditary? The first large-scale genetic study of the human voice has identified a genetic component associated with high-pitched voices regardless of gender. This is the content reported by the science journal Nature, based on a paper by Icelandic researchers published in Science Advances on the 9th (local time).

Previous research has found genetic effects on voice, mainly by identifying mutations that cause speech impairment in humans. However, Dr. Rosa Signi Gisladottir, a geneticist and linguist at deCODE Genetics (hereafter referred to as DeCODE), an Icelandic genetics company that conducted this study, said, “It is not possible to find genetic variants which actually affects pitch in general. This is the first time we have found it,” he said.

A person’s voice is partly shaped by body size and hormones. This is why women’s voices have a higher pitch than men’s voices. But another factor is genes.

“Common knowledge is that voices follow family,” says Kari Stefansson, geneticist and CEO of Decode. To prove this genetically, scientists have carried out a variety of studies over the years, including comparative studies of twins that can separate genetic and environmental influences.

But it would take many more people to figure out which genes play which roles. So Decode appeared. Founded in 1996, the company has made Iceland a center for genetic research by mining the vast amount of Icelandic genetic information. Iceland has a population of just 380,000, few family trees that can be traced back to ancestors, and the country keeps detailed family records, making it easy to spot variations and link them to traits or diseases.

According to DeCode’s website, more than half of Iceland’s adult population has currently participated in the company’s genetic research. In exchange for free health information, Stepansson said, applicants receive intensive four-hour observations on everything from bone density to mental health.

To find the genes behind voice pitch, Decode researchers recorded the voices of around 13,000 Icelanders and compared their voice frequency to a genetic database. As a result, common mutations in a specific gene called ABCC9 were found to correlate with high-pitched vocalization regardless of age or gender.

It’s not clear exactly how genetically this happens, but the researchers have a few theories. Among other things, ABCC9 contains the blueprints needed to create ion channels that help proteins like collagen and elastin do their job. Collagen and elastin help stretch the body’s tissues, including vocal cords.

The researchers also found that people with the high-negative mutation were more likely to suffer from heart disease. At first glance, it seems unrelated, but the researchers explained that this is a natural result because collagen and elastin help the heart muscle to work properly. Too much collagen or defective elastin can make heart tissue stiff and defective. This can also be applied to the elastic parts of the vocal cords, explains Dr. Gisladottir.

Stefansson believes that this is not the end of the story and that other genes could be involved in shaping voice pitch. However, more statistical power is needed to find this. Professor Julie Miller (neuroscientist) from the University of Arizona, USA, who reviewed the thesis, said that “there is a great need for large-scale research that directly records human voices and compares them to genes like this study.” He says the Decode study shows a good correlation between ABCC9 mutations and pitch, but it needs to be supported by animal experiments to prove that the mutation actually causes a higher pitch.

The paper can be found at the following link (


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