Mike Stevens | Nov 2, 2009

FOR SOME PEOPLE, according to scientists at the University of California, bad driving can be blamed on genetics.

A recent University of California study showed that people with a particular gene variant performed more than 20 percent worse on a driving test than people without it.

The gene variant limits the availability of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which normally keeps memory strong by supporting communication among brain cells.

To test the memory factor, a follow-up test was carried out three days later, the results showing that the people with the gene variant had forgotten much of what they'd learned in the first tests.

"These people make more errors from the get-go, and they forget more of what they learned after time away," Dr. Steven Cramer, neurology associate professor and senior author of the study said.

While the study tested only 29 people - seven with the gene variant and 22 without - the university's scientists said that the new tests were designed to supplement previous studies that had already showed similar results.

In the driving test, participants with and without the gene variant were asked to drive 15 laps on a simulator that required them to learn the nuances of a difficult course.

"We wanted to study motor behavior, something more complex than finger-tapping," Stephanie McHughen, graduate student and lead author of the study said.

"Driving seemed like a good choice because it has a learning curve and it's something most people know how to do."

Dr Cramer said that he would like to test the genes of people who have been involved in car accidents.

"I'd be curious to know the genetics of people who get into car crashes," Cramer said. "I wonder if the accident rate is higher for drivers with the variant."

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