If the results do in fact hold up, and this gene causes bad driving, 30% of Americans would fall into that category, according to the study scientists, LiveScience reports.
The study participants drove 15 laps on a simulator that required them to learn the nuances of a track with difficult curves and turns, the news report said. The researchers measured how well participants stayed on course, and the drivers repeated the simulator test four days later.
Participants with this particular gene performed 20% worse on the simulation test compared with those without the gene variant. Similar results were found in a follow-up test.
According to LIveScience, the gene in question limits the availability of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) – which strengthens a person’s memory by supporting communication among brain cells and keeping them in peak shape during activity. When a person is engaged in a particular task, BDNF is secreted in the brain area connected with that activity to help the body respond.
“These people make more errors from the get-go, and they forget more of what they learned after time away,” said lead researcher Steven Cramer, neurology associate professor at the University of California, Irvine, according to the news report.
The study involved only 29 individuals, 22 without the gene and seven with it, and such a small study would need to be replicated by other research, LiveScience conceded.
The research, funded by the National Institutes of Health, is detailed in a recent issue of the journal Cerebral Cortex.