This week Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix opens in theatres, and later this month, on July 21st, the final book seven comes out. It’s a hype, but is it really a problem? Millions of kids are anxiously waiting to read a book, why complain? And you can even use the Harry Potter books to teach genetics, as a 2005 Letter to Nature showed. The same idea had previously been mentioned in a British newspaper in 2003.
In brief: Wizarding is a recessive allele. All wizards have the genotype mm (I’m adopting the same notation as the slide show linked above, even though I realize upper and lower case m’s are not the best notation). Muggleness (non-wizardness) is dominant, so Muggles can have either MM or Mm. Pureblood wizards have two wizard parents, so both their parents have mm. Halfblood wizards have one muggle parent, so their muggle parent must have Mm and pass on m. Some wizards, like Hermione or Harry’s mother Lily, are “muggle born”, so both their parents have Mm, and they each pass on m to their wizard child. (As a small aside: Harry’s wizard-hating aunt Petunia (Lily’s sister) is therefore twice as likely to have one copy of the recessive wizard gene than to be a homozygote MM muggle.) Squibs are non-wizard children of wizards. they should have mm, but the theory is that a mutation in one of the m genes would be enough to make them incapable of magic. There are quite a lot of squibs, so it seems the gene is susceptible to mutation.
(See also this post I did for Metafilter two years ago.)
Just recently, another Harry Potter paper came out. This time, Harry has been diagnosed with migraines according to a paper in the journal Headache. The abstract contains the sentence “Regrettably we are not privy to the Wizard system of classifying headache disorders and are therefore limited to the Muggle method, the International Classification of Headache Disorders, 2nd edition (ICHD-II).” which naturally led me to do a PubMed search for “muggle”. Score! Other than the headache paper, two other articles came up! Both are from the same group in Singapore, and concern patient treatment in Hogwarts Infirmary and St Mungo’s Hospital for magical maladies. Here is the full text of one of their “studies” in CMAJ. (Be sure to look at the footnote and references.)
Are there more science (or medical) lessons to be extracted from Harry Potter? I think so! For example, I have a very clear idea of which of the characters would make good scientists and why, and will discuss this later this week. Meanwhile, tell me: which of the HP characters do you think would make the best scientist(s)? And who would be terrible?