Know someone who seems congenitally incapable of driving? A new study suggests that a genetic variant may, in fact, be responsible for poor driving skills — and it's a variant nearly one third of Americans possess.
A study at the University of California at Irvine studied the affect of a certain variant of the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) gene on driving. The gene supports communication in the brain cells and is associated with keeping memory strong. For people with a certain variant of the BDNF gene, this process works less than optimally, and those people are less likely to recover from a stroke. Roughly 30 percent of Americans possess that less optimal variant.
The researchers had 29 participants, 22 without the less optimal variant of the gene and seven with it, take a simulated driving test. In the simulator, participants had to loop a track and gradually learn its nuances. They then had them drive the same simulated track days later. Participants with the gene variant performed worse on the driving test; they did not stay on the course as well as the participants and remembered less about the track during the second test.
But even if this genetic variant does make you a worse driver, it has certain advantages. Some studies have found that people with the variant retain greater mental sharpness when faced with neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's, Huntington's and multiple sclerosis.