Jonathan Rothberg is searching for a genetic basis to mathematical prowess, reports Erika Check Hayden at Nature News. Rothberg and Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Max Tegmark have embarked on what they call Project Einstein to search through the genomes of mathematicians and theoretical physicists to see what makes them tick, or at least gives them their math abilities.
As Check Hayden notes, the researchers are wading into a controversial field, both technically and ethically. Intelligence-related traits are complex and large studies would likely be needed to uncover any genetic markers. Daniel MacArthur at Massachusetts General Hospital tells her that the study "is unlikely to have any statistical power." Other critics say those markers could be used to identify and select for, for example, embryos with mathematical ability.
"Einstein said 'the most incomprehensible thing about the Universe is that it is comprehensible,'" Rothberg says to Nature News. "I'd love to find the genes that make the Universe comprehensible."