Degrees of learning in the genes

From ABC News in Science, 31 May 2013:

It’s not quite the ‘smart gene’ but researchers have identified a small number of genetic markers associated with educational attainment.

A genome-wide association study using genetic data from more than 100,000 individuals found three genetic markers that were significantly linked to an individual’s numbers of years of schooling and highest degree of education.

The results of the Social Science Genetic Association Consortium study, which includes 128 research organisations and universities worldwide, are published today in Science.

While the individual effects of each of the genetic markers was very small — less than 0.02 per cent — co-author Professor Peter Visscher says this is not unexpected for a trait as complex as educational attainment.

“We know from twin and family studies that most variation in a trait like educational attainment is environmental but there is also about 40 per cent of individual differences that seem to be due to genetic factors,” says Visscher, professor of quantitative genetics at the University of Queensland.

“[These effects] are not inconsistent with diseases which also have a similar strong influence from the environment; for example, the heritability for major depression is also about 40 per cent and there also, the effect sizes are tiny.” Read more here.

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