Legends of Irish Giants Are More Than Tall TalesDavid Moye Contributor Feb 20, 2011 – 9:16 AM
Although the Irish legend of leprechauns [Cobbling shoes forever] is probably just a load of blarney, there's scientific evidence suggesting that the fabled stories of giants living on the Emerald Isle aren't just tall tales.
According to a study in The New England Journal of Medicine, it seems that Northern Ireland is a hot spot for people with pituitary adenomas -- tumors that can cause the pituitary gland to pump out 50 times more growth hormones than normal, often leading to enormous growth spurts.
Familiar with Ireland's folkloric history as a home to giants, researcher Dr. Marta Korbonits, a professor of endocrinology and metabolism at Barts and the London School of Medicine, looked to the past and found a genetic link connecting four modern-day Northern Ireland families with one of the nation's most famous titans.
Korbonits and crew used DNA extracted from the teeth of Charles Byrne, a 7-foot-7 giant who made a big impression in London during the 18th century, to discover a genetic mutation for the pituitary problem.
In addition, they were able to connect that mutation with four modern-day Northern Ireland families, including Brendan Holland, a 6-foot-9 giant who, according to the "Today" show, would have grown to 8 feet had his tumor not been treated with radiation at the age of 19.
"I consider myself extraordinarily lucky," Holland told "Today" show correspondent Michelle Kosinski.
Holland and Byrne's inherited gene mutation for gigantism has even deeper roots: a common ancestor who lived an estimated 1,425-1,650 years earlier -- or 57-66 generations ago.
But the findings have Holland more interested in the future than the past.
"I know that my children or my grandchildren could be screened for this rogue gene and if they are sufferers (of familial isolated pituitary adenoma), they can be given early treatment," he told MSNBC.
"These people are not weirdos or freaks, but just ordinary ill people, as anybody else who inherits an increased chance to get a disease from their parents, as many of us do with other diseases, such as heart disease or diabetes," she said.
Meanwhile, the news that gigantism is genetic and, if discovered in time, can be minimized is big news to the folks at Ripley's Believe It Or Not -- a company famous for celebrating and promoting various anomalies of nature, including giants.
"I wonder if the NBA could be in trouble," said Ripley's spokesman Tim O'Brien. "Still, gigantism is not something we wish upon anyone. Robert Ripley himself was very attuned to freaks of nature -- as are we -- and medical science has taken care of many problems, such as if a person has an extra leg or excessive obesity, so if this discovery can relieve people of suffering, that's a good thing."
Families that run to gigantism are independantly known from Scotland and Scandinavia, so this very likely could be a valuable clue to follow up on--Best Wishes, Dale D.