Bad Spelling Chalked Up to Our DNA

Many of us are not great spellers, and the thought of a world without spell check or Google's handy "Did you mean..." feature is enough to send some into a panic. In the past bad spelling was attributed to poor schooling and even a lack of moral fiber, but now science is offering up a new explanation. Difficulties with spelling may be rooted in your DNA, and in the way that your brain is actually wired.

These new scientific findings stem from research into the language disorder of dyslexia, but are beginning to prove important for the general population as well. Genes not only influence those with dyslexia, but also those without the syndrome. So if you're a bad speller, you can now blame in on your genes, or your parents since they gave you your DNA.

According to John Stein, Professor of Neuroscience at Oxford University Medical School, both reading and spelling require a phenomenal amount of brain power. Deciphering a sentence and all forms of the written word is the most complex tasks your brain faces. The reason behind this is that the written word is a pretty recent invention.

Stein says, "It was invented only 5,000 years ago. It is piggybacked on to our linguistic ability, which was invented 30,000-40,000 years ago. The consequence is that many people fail to read or spell.”

What this means is that as humans developed written language, our brains had to adapt and upgrade, adding in reading and spelling circuits to the mix. Of course things can go wrong, such as in the case of dyslexia.

In the case of dyslexia, scientists stumbled on a gene that might also cause some of us to be bad spellers, but not to the extent that it's a clinical disorder such as dyslexia.

"Around 60 percent of the variation in the ability to spell lies in our genes," says Tony Monaco, a scientist at the Wellcome Centre Trust for Human Genetics at Oxford University. Monaco also says that genes dictate how our brains develop.

All of us carry a particular gene known as "KIAA0319", but 15% of the population was found in Monaco's studies to have a slightly different version than normal. The normal version of the gene helps guide brain cells into the cortex, the thinking area of the brain, when a child is developing in the womb. When the gene is different, it is not able to properly fulfill is function and some brain cellls get "lost on the journey and end up in the wrong place" which may "disrupt the processing of information."

However, bad spelling isn't entirely attributable to our genetic makeup. Nutrition and proper sleep are believed to contribute, as the brain needs all of the energy it can get to carry out these complex language processes.