Unravelling the Minion genome

Based on what we know of the minions from the popular Despicable Me films – and the Minions movie current playing at cinemas – they could, in theory, have a complex genetic make-up similar to humans, according to Natural Sciences students Krisho Manoharan and Ruth Sang Jones.

In a paper for the Journal of Interdisciplinary Science Topics, a peer-reviewed student journal run by the University’s Centre for Interdisciplinary Science, the students analysed the ‘minion’ genome and suggest that, given their biological traits and the fact that they are said to have come onto land at the time of the tetrapods (approximately 400 million years ago), their genome could include:

  • Homoeotic genes, which are responsible for organism development; and given their proportions, minions could potentially have hypochondroplasia – a mutation of the FGFR3 gene which can result in disproportionate limbs in relation to their bodies and an enlarged cranium
  • The Pax6 gene, which is responsible for eye development and would explain a minion’s camera-lens structured eyes
  • The FoxP2 gene, which when mutated in humans can impair spoken articulation – this could explain their own spoken language system which in some way mimics human languages
  • Xanthophores, which determine animal colouration and could explain the yellow pigmentation of a minion

Of course, some elements of a minion’s genome go beyond what humans are capable of, such as their immortality and lack of reproductive ability.

A brief look at a minion, however, does suggest that many of its genetic properties are similar to humans – suggesting there could in theory be an evolutionary link if minions really existed.

Dr Cheryl Hurkett from the University of Leicester’s Centre for Interdisciplinary Science said: “An important part of being a professional scientist (as well as many other professions) is the ability to make connections between the vast quantity of information students have at their command, and being able to utilise the knowledge and techniques they have previously mastered in a new or novel context. The Interdisciplinary Research Journal module models this process, and gives students an opportunity to practise this way of thinking. The intention of this module is to allow students to experience what it’s like to be at the cutting edge of scientific research.

“The course is engaging to students and the publishing process provides them with an invaluable insight into academic publishing. It also helps students feel more confident when submitting future papers. I find it a very rewarding module to teach and I am always pleased to see my students engaging so enthusiastically with the subject. I encourage them to be as creative as possible with their subject choices as long as they can back it up with hard scientific facts, theories and calculations!”