Humans’ music and genes may have evolved together

A link between variation in the traditional folk songs and the genetic material of indigenous populations in Taiwan (shown) suggests that music could be used to trace human migrations.

Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS/GSFC/NASA

Music may be a tool scientists can use to trace human migrations.

Researchers analyzed traditional folk songs and the mitochondrial DNA among nine indigenous populations of Taiwan and found an association between the diversity of the groups’ music and the variation in the groups’ genetic material.

The results provide the first measurable evidence that variation in music and genes can develop at the same time, the team reports November 12 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Traditional songs of modern-day indigenous populations may also hold traces of ancient populations’ interactions and migrations, the researchers note. Music could therefore be a new marker, in addition to language, genes and other characteristics, that scientists use to retrace the paths that humans took around the world, they say.

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

More Stories from Science News on Humans