The Genetics of Curly Hair, Freckling, and the Ability to Smell Asparagus in Your Pee

There’s a recent paper that compares mutations in 10,000 people to discover the genetic basis behind 22 different traits. The study was conducted via online surveys filled out by customers of the personal genetic testing website 23andme.

Some of these are fairly hilarious. There’s asparagus anosmia, which is ‘the inability to detect certain urinary metabolites produced after eating asparagus’. Then there’s the photic sneeze reflex, which is ‘the tendency to sneeze when entering bright light’. The acronym for that is ACHOO syndrome, where ACHOO stands for Autosomal-dominant Compelling Helio-Ophthalmic Outburst. Apparently,

Aristotle discussed the trait in a section of his Book of Problems called “Problems concerning the nose,” hypothesizing that heat-generated movement led to tickling of the nose. No previous studies have reported genes or SNPs associated with this particular reflex.

Their lists of traits includes such illustrious candidates as whether you have attached or dangling earlobes, ‘which thumb is on top when clasping one’s hands’, or whether you ‘suffer from motion sickness while riding in a car’, whether you are optimistic, or have ‘a preference for sweet versus salty food’, or a ‘preference for night-time versus morning-time activity’.

Out of the 22 traits they searched for, they found associations for some of them: those that had to do with pigmentation, freckles, curly hair, photic sneeze, and the asparagus-pee thing.

Incidentally, and to jump the gun on the objections that I think many of you will raise with parts of this study, Newsweek has a nice article called ‘When the Key to Good Genetics Research Isn’t in the Genes.’ You can find it here.

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One Response to The Genetics of Curly Hair, Freckling, and the Ability to Smell Asparagus in Your Pee

  1. deturing says:

    I think I have a mild form of the ACHOO syndrome :)

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