AsianScientist (Jun. 6, 2013) – A large study of 126,559 individuals has found that tiny changes to a person’s genetic sequence are associated with one’s final educational level.
The study, conducted by a consortium of medical researchers and social scientists and published in the journal Science, identified genetic variants that were linked to the number of years of schooling and also whether or not a person had finished tertiary education.
“We studied the genetic information of more than 125,000 people, looking specifically at a type of genetic variation called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs),” said Professor Visscher from The University of Queensland’s (UQ) Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) and Diamantina Institute (DI).
A SNP is one of the most common genetic changes and involves the replacement of a single unit that makes up our DNA with another.
The study identified a number of SNPs that, when combined, were found to account for around two percent of the difference in number of years and cognitive ability of the individuals.
Visscher explained that although this finding is only a very small piece of a very large puzzle, involving many other genetic and environmental factors, it does have a number of significant implications.
“These small changes, though they have little effect alone, may lead to insights into biological pathways underlying human behavior. Discovering them helps us to identify which genes are involved, leading us to study their function in much greater detail,” he said.
The study may also help to understand why some people are more susceptible to early cognitive decline than others.
“We are interested in understanding individual differences between people in memory and learning because that may lead to a better understanding of why some people cognitively age better than others, and why some people are genetically more susceptible to dementia,” Visscher said.
The study had a sample size about ten times larger than any other study investigating social-scientific outcomes.
“By increasing the number of individuals, we can move toward having a better understanding of the true effects of individual genetic markers on behavioral traits,” he said.
The article can be found at: Rietveld CA et al. (2013) GWAS of 126,559 Individuals Identifies Genetic Variants Associated with Educational Attainment.
Source: UQ; Photo: SalFalko/Flickr/CC.
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