What makes a nerd a nerd? The stereotype is that of someone with a high intelligence, coupled with social awkwardness and a wardrobe that may alert the fashion police. Now scientists think they may found the genomic links to these traits.
There was always a strong suspicion of a genetic component in people that are highly skilled in certain areas of engineering and sciences. Now we think that may be due to a particular type of viral infection. We know that human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) make up about 8% of the human genome (that’s more than our genes, really). But what we don’t know is how they affect us, if at all. We think we do now. Specifically, a comprehensive study of human genomes from the 10,000 genome project has linked certain retroviral markers with education levels, certain vocations, and to a smaller extent, personal income. The result: programmers, engineers, scientists (especially physicists, statisticians and mathematicians) all had specific HERV markers not found in the general populace. Some of these markers were located next to genes coding for proteins located in the frontal lobe: the brain area associated with problem-solving.
But even more so, the overall number of HERV markers those people was considerably smaller: sometimes less than 4%, almost half of that of the general populace. Since HERV markers are generally associated with sexually transmitted viruses this finding led the researchers to hypothesize that the early hominid ancestors of the “nerd” populace tended to mate less than the general populace. Leading to fewer HERV markers, but somehow to a more specific selection for the “brainy” traits. This would also explain the stereotypical “bright but shy” nerd.
Really interesting study, and you can read more about it here.