The genetics of bookworms

Earlier I was joking with a friend that my sister can’t really be related to me, because she’s not a voracious reader and she was actually complaining about having a long reading list. Then because said friend and I are both doing an online genetics class, they joked to me that perhaps my sister just didn’t get the gene for bookwormishness. This wouldn’t actually work, as my sister is a reader (hard SF, paranormal romance, fantasy, crime — not too dissimilar to me, in fact), just less voracious than me.

So I set out to work it out properly. I took sickle-cell anaemia as my model: it’s one of those genes which is not dominant or recessive, but is partially expressed even when there’s only one copy of it (i.e. in an heterozygous individual). With the allele for sickle-cell anaemia, if you have both all of your red blood cells will be formed wrongly (in a sickle shape); if you have one, then some of your blood cells will be formed correctly and some will not (coincidentally somehow giving you an advantage when infected with malaria).

In my model, Bm and NR are the two variants of the allele. Bm = bookworm, NR = non-reader. So someone with two Bm alleles will be a complete and total bookworm… perhaps even a bibliophibian. Someone who is less interested in books but is still a reader to some degree has one copy of each, BmNR. And someone who is not interested in reading at all is NRNR. Some of the work on this family tree is guesswork, and not all BmNRs are created alike, but this is what my family looks like…

A family tree showing the "bookworm" genes throughout three generations of my familyIn putting this together, I was amazed to learn that my Grampy was a BmBm; he died when I was very young, and my only memory of him involves playing with Lego. I wonder what he’d have made of me and my taste in books!

It may be conjectured that Loserface (my cousins’ father) is a loserface in my eyes because he was NRNR. This isn’t so, but it’s gratifying to know that he had no redeeming qualities. Of my cousins, I am only sure of C.; I made my guess on AM. based on the fact that I know she secreted books all over her room and consequently nearly killed her mother, and on F. based on the fact that he asked for books for Christmas once. S. and K. I guessed based on the fact that I’ve seen their house and they do have books, but they don’t ask for books for Christmas, therefore leaving me to conclude they cannot be BmBm.

Caveat: I know this is all ridiculous and environment probably has a lot more to do with this than genes. This is just fun and mostly meant to prove that I really am a geek in many ways. Though not geeky enough to care about the differences between geeks, dorks and nerds: we’re all enthusiasts, okay?

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9 thoughts on “The genetics of bookworms

  1. You are not ridiculous! That looks like a lot of fun! If my extended family wasn’t huge and predominantly consisting of NRNR people, I’d try my own hand at it. (I wouldn’t have the first clue what I’m doing and probably mess it up entirely, though…)

    • I’ve been really amazed at what I’ve learnt from the process. I went back over my family and tried to figure out what genes they were likely to have based on the behaviour of the latest generation, if bookishness were genetic, and as if to mess with me, in my family it does follow that pattern! But mostly I learnt stuff about my Grampy and how much he loved books, which everybody forgot I had no way to know.

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