Is Tongue Rolling Genetic?

Tongue rolling

Tongue rolling (Rochelle/Flickr)

Can you roll your tongue into shape of a test tube? Do you get dry ear wax? Do you have cleft chin? Can you wiggle your ears? When you clasp your hands which thumb lands up on the top? These questions may seem innocuous and unwarranted but a whole lot of researchers are scratching their heads on these puzzles which many believe is linked to genetics.

So can you really roll your tongue into shape of a tube? Not many people can but then they do have friends who can and this difference some researchers say is because of genetics. Biology students are taught that tongue rolling is the simplest way to explain inherited genes. Those who can roll their tongues have inherited the gene from their tongue-rolling parents while those who can’t also have parents who can’t roll their tongues. You have got your genes from your parents and even if one of the parents has the tongue-rolling gene, you will be able to roll your tongue.

It’s not so easy to explain

The explanation is not as simple as it is made it out to be and your biology teacher might be wrong after all because there are people who can roll their tongues while their parents can’t. Another research study done by Matlock in 1952 concluded that identical twins don’t always share the tongue-rolling trait. Identical twins are known to have identical DNAs and hence should also share the ability to roll the tongue if they have same genes.  In 1975, another researcher demonstrated that identical twins are no more likely to share tongue-rolling than are fraternal twins. This gives birth to the idea that environment is also a major factor. Both the twins might be having the gene but it is not expressed in one of them due to absence of an environmental trigger.

The environmental trigger theory has also found takers in several other conditions like autoimmune disorders. People are known to be predisposed to them but these disorders are manifested in only those who encounter particular environmental triggers stress, pollution or specific disorders.[ad#co-1]

Another theory regarding tongue rolling is that there might be another gene called modifier gene which is controlling the expression of tongue rolling gene. So there can be parents who possess the gene to roll their tongues but still they can’t roll them because the modifier gene in them is off. Now their child can have the ability to roll the tongue if they modifier gene is not passed on.

All these explanations may seem confusing but that’s not the end of the whole story. Tomorrow some new research may prove that all the above propositions are wrong and there is some new factor that defines tongue rolling. Meanwhile, surveys done by biologists have put forth interesting data related to tongue rolling. It was found that in Spain 67 per cent of females can roll their tongues compared to just 64 per cent of the male population. However, Spanish men are better at wiggling their ears. Around 20 per cent of them can wiggle their ears as compared to 10 per cent of women. Another Iranian researcher found that north England does not have many people who can roll their tongues and this, he believes, is because of genetic intermingling with the Scandinavians.

Whatever the final verdict be, it’s clear that if you can roll your tongue, genetics are involved in this ability of yours. However, to what extent the power of genetics works in this scenario is not yet known. So, the picture is out but the contours are still being finalized.[ad#afterpost]