Intended for healthcare professionals

Altered States

Origins of magic: review of genetic and epigenetic effects

BMJ 2007; 335 doi: (Published 20 December 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;335:1299
  1. Sreeram V Ramagopalan, DPhil candidate12,
  2. Marian Knight, senior clinical research fellow3,
  3. George C Ebers, professor of clinical neurology12,
  4. Julian C Knight, senior research fellow1
  1. 1Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, University of Oxford, Oxford OX3 7BN
  2. 2Department of Clinical Neurology, University of Oxford
  3. 3National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit, University of Oxford
  1. Correspondence to: J C Knight julian{at}
  • Accepted 16 November 2007


Objective To assess the evidence for a genetic basis to magic.

Design Literature review.

Setting Harry Potter novels of J K Rowling.

Participants Muggles, witches, wizards, and squibs.

Interventions Limited.

Main outcome measures Family and twin studies, magical ability, and specific magical skills.

Results Magic shows strong evidence of heritability, with familial aggregation and concordance in twins. Evidence suggests magical ability to be a quantitative trait. Specific magical skills, notably being able to speak to snakes, predict the future, and change hair colour, all seem heritable.

Conclusions A multilocus model with a dominant gene for magic might exist, controlled epistatically by one or more loci, possibly recessive in nature. Magical enhancers regulating gene expressionmay be involved, combined with mutations at specific genes implicated in speech and hair colour such as FOXP2 and MCR1.


  • We thank the three underage witches who gave specialist advice on more technical aspects of the Harry Potter novels and David Dyment, Blanca Herrera, Emma Walton, and Claire Vandiedonck for helpful comments.

  • Contributors: JCK and MK conceived the study. JCK designed the study and is the guarantor. All authors analysed and interpreted the data and wrote the paper.

  • Funding: SVR is funded by the Medical Research Council of the United Kingdom. MK is funded by a postdoctoral award from the Department of Health National Coordinating Centre for Research Capacity Development. GCE is the action research professor of clinical neurology at the University of Oxford. JCK is a Wellcome Trust senior research fellow in clinical science. The National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit is funded by the Department of Health in England. The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Health.

  • Competing interests: None declared.

  • Ethical approval: Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review: Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Accepted 16 November 2007
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