If you can’t roll your tongue, this is what it means!
Rolling, turning over, bending or even twisting. The tongue is the most flexible muscle in the human body. It can be a true acrobat regardless of whether your parents can do these trick or can’t… People believed for years that the ability of giving different shapes to the tongue is genetic. You inherit features from your parents so if you can do it, it’s probable they can do it too.
However recent studies show that genetics isn't a decisive factor. John McDonald, an evolutionary biologist from Delaware University, asked his students the following question: “How many of you have learned in biology classes that rolling the tongue is a genetic feature?”. The majority of students raised their hand, and they were certainly wrong.
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In 1940, geneticist Alfred Sturtevant published an article claiming that rolling the tongue is based on a dominant gene. In 1952, Philip Matlock disproved Sturtevant’s theory with the fact that 7 out of 33 identical twins didn’t share their brother’s gift. If rolling the tongue was genetic, the twins would have shared the feature. Sturtevant admitted his mistake some time after. But how did all begin?
For many of people this matter seems obvious. It’s surely possible to learn how to roll the tongue but if somebody can’t do it, it's not so important anyway.
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After all, it seems that you can’t do it if the other members of your family also can’t, right? We've been told that our parents give us this ability the same way they do, for example, with an eye colour.
Many of us probably have never thought about such thing but, believe us, this matter may be a real problem for some children. They even sometimes start to think that their parents may not be their parents because they can roll their tongue but their parents can’t.
Luckily those people don’t need to worry anymore. It turns out that this feature is not inheritable directly from the parents. Moreover, we bring you good news if you always wanted to do it but for some reason it wasn't possible.
In fact, you can learn to roll your tongue. At least 20% of people learn how to do it at the age of 12. There're even adults who thought they couldn’t roll their tongue and they learned this skill in just a week.
At the beginning scientists included this as a finding in their investigations. Alfred Sturtevant published a document that referred to that in 1940, but another study carried out 12 years later discovered that some identical twins didn’t have the same ability. If the feature is easily inheritable, why not every twin was able to do it? The study was refused.
Sturtevant admitted his error but the myth is still alive. In 1965, he wrote: “I feel ashamed that it still appears in some contemporary studies, such as the Mendelian case”. However, it doesn't mean that there is no genetic background for the ability to roll the tongue. It’s possible that a number of genes, including those responsible for muscular tonality, may influence the ability to perform such little tricks. If you can’t do it, you can either practice or leave it if you don't care about it that much.
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