Feel like your neighbor always knows? Like somehow they’re aware of exactly when you’re about to put out the garbage in your pajamas, with your hair straight out to there, so they can give you a firmly smug ‘good morning’ in a well-pressed suit?
I know. It’s eerie. Maybe they do have ESP, or extrasensory perception, but the thing is, it’s hard to quantify.
ESP- the ability to use psychic powers in order to know what’s going on in a place without being there, and things like telepathy and clairvoyance- are something we usually think of as living in the movies.
Or if it they are something real, they’re embodied by the very few. It isn’t something recognized by cold, hard science.
But here’s the news: we all actually have a sixth sense and researchers have now found a gene for it.
OK, so it’s not about clairvoyance. It doesn’t refer to psychic abilities but it’s actually not so far off.
It’s called proprioception. Science has labeled our ability to know where our body parts are in space, without seeing them as a sixth sense. Proprioception involves knowing about and being aware of our body position, movement and acceleration. So, for instance, it’s about being able to know that your hands are just above your head as you throw a basketball, or that we are going to bang into that table by the wall if we spin three times and move to the left.
And some people seem to have more proprioception talent than others. Researchers have used gold medal American gymnast Simone Biles as an example of someone with incredible proprioception. This is what enables Biles to do such amazing feats high above the ground upside down and backwards, and land perfectly almost every time.
So how did scientists figure it out, and which gene is involved?
The one that gives us this sixth sense, or at least one of them, is called PIEZO2
A study done by the National Institutes of Health and published in the New England Journal of Medicine identified the gene. Researchers identified the gene by looking into the genetic causes of unexplained neurological problems in children.
Scientists were trying to figure out why some children with common birth defects-a curvature of their spine and a lack of awareness of the position of their joints-were born with these exceptions.
In doing their work, researchers found that the children being studied were all missing PIEZO2, or that it had essentially been cut out in their development.
But humans are amazing, (as an aside).
“What’s remarkable about these patients,” said Dr. Carsten G. Bönnemann, M.D., senior investigator at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and a co-leader of the study, “is how much their nervous systems compensate for their lack of touch and body awareness.”
Despite their difficulties, the children studied appeared to cope with these challenges by relying heavily on vision and other senses.
Dr. Bönnemann commented the findings indicate that the nervous system may have several alternate pathways science can tap into when designing new therapies for people with low or non-existent proprioception.
So, it’s not reading minds, or seeing into the future, maybe we’re getting there. Cool.