Geneticist clones gene for hearing loss malady

UW Postdoctoral Fellow Eric D. Lynch successfully cloned a gene which, when mutated, causes an inherited form of deafness, he reported in the Nov. 14 issue of the journal Science. The mutation in the gene is responsible for progressive hearing loss in a large extended family in Costa Rica. Of 196 family members identified in eight generations, 147 are still living and 78 are deaf. The onset of deafness commences between age 6 and 20, and is complete by age 30.

“There are implications for general knowledge of hearing mechanisms,” says Lynch. The gene activates a protein sequence which helps the hair cells of the inner ear turn sound waves into electrical impulses. “We didn’t know how it was being formed and maintained. This gene gives us some insight,” he says.