A Gene for Dyslexia

The Popular Media View vs. the Scientific Media View.

On September 7th, 1999, the New York Times printed an article entitled "Scientists Find the First Gene for Dyslexia."  This event was preceded by the release of a similar article in the Journal of Medical Genetics. The following is my own account of the similarities and discrepancies between the two articles.

This webpage was produced as an assignment for an undergraduate course at Davidson College.


Quick Overview:

     Dyslexia is a disability that affects 15% to 20% of the population's ability to read and write. It is, in fact, the most common cause of reading, writing, and spelling difficulties in students who receive special education services.  Dyslexia does not affect a person's intelligence.  It only affects their ability to express themselves and to understand others.  This disorder has been seen to be passed down from generation to generation in an apparently genetic fashion.  (International Dyslexia Association, 2000)

     If a child can be diagnosed with Dyslexia early enough, the effects can be greatly reduced through a program involving phonological training. For this reason, the discovery of the genetic components that lead to Dyslexia, the proteins and other structures that play roles in causing the disability, and the pathway through which all the different components of the disability act are all crucial to the possible development of more effective forms of treatment. (International Dyslexia Association, 2000)

New York Times Article:

     The September 7th, 1999 article in the New York times (the abstract of which can be viewed via the link at the bottom of the page) describes the discovery.  Dr. Toril Fagerheim of the University Hospital of Tromsoe Norway, in conjunction with the University of Antwerp in Belgium and the University of Florida in Miami is credited with the discovery of the gene. (AP, 1999)

     The article states, essentially, that through an analysis of a large Norwegian family's pedigree Dr. Fagerheim was able to find the Dyslexia gene.  The gene has been mapped to the second chromosome and is referred to as DYX3.  Neither the pathway by which the gene acts, nor the name and type of protein that the gene codes for are mentioned.  According to Dr. Fagerheim, "cloning of the DYX3 gene will provide insight into the nature and frequency of at least one gene that is involved in reading and spelling," implying that there quite probably could be more than one gene involved in the Dyslexia pathway.  She also states that Dyslexia is composed of both genetic and environmental components. (AP, 1999)

Scientific Article:

     The scientific article entitled "A new gene (DYX3) for dyslexia is located on chromosome 2" (the abstract of which is linked at the bottom of this page) describes the history of the search for the dyslexia gene, and the location that was discovered in the recent linkage analysis of a large Norwegian family.  The location specified is the second chromosome, between p15 and p16.  The article states that the actual gene has not yet been isolated, but, that isolation of the gene will provide "new and exciting insights into the processes involved in reading and spelling." (Fagerheim, T., et. al., 1999)

Figure of 2p15-p16, location of DYX3 gene.

Permission requested from NCBI, <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov>

Comparison of Articles:

    The two articles are both careful not to assert that the newly found gene will lead directly to a simple cure or a quick fix for Dyslexia.  However, the scientific article deals more with the specific location of the gene on the second chromosome, and the linkage analysis that led to its discovery.  The shorter news article emphasizes the need to isolate the gene, clone it, and use it to search for other genes that work with it.  Hence, the newspaper article appears be more interested in the future of the gene whereas the scientific article is predominantly concerned with the exact details of the completed study. This shows, to some extent, the difference between the popular media's view of scientific discoveries, and the scientific community's view. The scientific community must remain objective, analyzing data for significant results, whereas the popular media has a little more room to put emphasis on the current implications of a discovery and the future improvements that such a discovery might have on life. Other than that slight difference of emphasis, the two articles were quite similar.


News Article Abstract       PubMed Scientific Article Abstract     Gene Info

Ben's Homepage   E-mail Ben    International Dyslexia Association

Genomics Homepage       Davidson Homepage

AP. 1999. Scientists Find the First Gene for Dyslexia. <http://www.nytimes.com> or <link to abstract>. 9/1/01.

Fagerheim T, Raeymaekers P, Tonnessen FE, Pedersen M, Tranebjaerg L, Lubs HA. 1999. A new gene (DYX3) for dyslexia is located on chromosome 2.
         <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=10507721&dopt=Abstract>. 9/1/01.

International Dyslexia Association. 2000. The International Dyslexia Association Web Site. <http://www.interdys.org/>. 9/1/01.