Genetic variants can predict educational achievement

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A group of 78 researchers led by the Social Science Genetic Association Consortium have identified 1,271 genetic variations that could be associated with the extent of education that a person would complete.

There has been an earlier study a couple of years back that had pin pointed 74 variants. This latest study adds to the earlier one. The study was published earlier this week in the journal Nature Genetics.

Image Credit: WhiteMocca / Shutterstock

Image Credit: WhiteMocca / Shutterstock

This new study is one of the largest genetic studies with over a million individuals of European descent being included in it. This is over three times the size of the earlier smaller study conducted in 2016.

According to author of the study and associate professor for the Center for Economic and Social Research at USC Dornsife, Daniel Benjamin, the total effect of the genetic variations is small and this explains for only 4 percent of the variations in educational achievements.

He explained that the largest genetic variations could only predict a difference of around “three more weeks of schooling” at best. However when the combined effects of all the genetic variations are taken into account, the total length of a person’s formal education can be predicted along with other demographic features, he explained.

For this study the team of researchers gathered individual data from the UK Biobank Resource along with genomics company 23andMe. They gathered and collated results from 69 other smaller genetic studies to increase the strength of this present study.

The 1.1 million participants’ data was thus gathered from 71 datasets and they belonged to 15 different countries. Most of the individuals were at least 30 years old.

The researchers explain that there have been several predictors to educational attainment and this includes social factors such as maternal education, socioeconomic status, household income etc. In order to find if the genetic variations were linked to educational attainment, the team of researchers devised a “polygenic score” that can combine the information from 1 million genetic variations and predict an outcome.

These 1 million genetic variations included those linked to educational attainment and also those measured by the team. They found as a result of their study that just like the social and demographic factors, several genes have a robust predictive power. These genes can successfully predict the level of education that an individual would obtain.

Benjamin explained that the earlier study was proven to be true and that in itself is an important finding. He however refrained from calling these genes “genes for education” saying that it would be “misleading”. He emphasized upon the effectiveness of the polygenic score saying that it can successfully combine the effects of a huge number of genetic variants.

Peter Visscher, senior author and a professor at the University of Queensland explained that these genetic variants have been seen to influence almost all stages of development of the brain and also in neurological connections within the brain. They noted that there are several genetic variants on the X chromosome that showed that there are similar genetic variations among men and women.

This also means that there are no genetically determined differences in gender in the differences between educational attainments. Benjamin said that there are several more genetic variations that need to be explored. These can be assessed only with larger populations of participants he explained.

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