-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas
THURSDAY, May 30 (HealthDay News) -- Could the secret to
educational achievement lie in a person's DNA? A major new study
suggests that genes do play some role in how well an individual
does at school.
The international team of researchers tested hundreds of
thousands of genetic markers to track links between genetic
variation and the level of education people achieved, including
whether or not they graduated from college.
"We have now taken a small but important first step toward identifying the specific genetic variants that predict educational attainment," study co-author NYU sociologist Dalton Conley, a sociologist at New York University, said in a university news release.
Although they have not spotted an "education gene," he and his
colleagues believe the findings could also shed light on certain
memory and learning problems.
"We hope that our findings will eventually be useful for understanding biological processes underlying learning, memory, reading disabilities and cognitive decline in the elderly," said another co-author, Daniel Benjamin, a behavioral economist at Cornell and co-director of the Social Science Genetic Association Consortium.
The consortium's findings were the result of a genome-wide
association study that pooled information form more than 125,000
people from the United States, Australia and 13 western European
countries -- a total sample size more than 10 times larger than any
previous genetic study of its kind.
Since the study included people from around the world, the
researchers used a common measure of educational achievement, known
as the International Standard Classification of Education scale, to
analyze genetic variants called single-nucleotide polymorphisms, or
SNPs -- tiny changes found at one location in a person's genetic
Analysis of over 2 million SNPs allowed the team to explain
about 2 percent of the variation in educational achievement among
the study's participants.
No one gene had a major impact on how far people went in school,
however. The genetic markers identified as having the strongest
effects on the level of education a person achieves could each only
explain 0.02 percent or the variety between people, the team
That effect is minor compared with genes' effects on other
developmental attributes. For example, a SNP is known to cause
about 0.40 percent of the variation in height between different
people, the researchers said.
The new study has much more power to spot genetic effects than
prior efforts, the researchers added.
"Previous studies used far smaller samples, sometimes as small as 100 individuals and rarely more than 10,000. These small samples make sense under the assumption that individual genes have large effects. However, if genes have small effects, as our study shows, then sample sizes need to be very large to produce robust findings that will reliably replicate in other samples," David Cesarini, an NYU assistant professor at the Center for Experimental Social Science and the Center for Neuroeconomics, said in the news release.
The findings, published May 30 in the journal
notsuggest that a person's educational path is determined at
birth, the team stressed.
Conley said that a person's genetics must work in the context of
his or her environment, which is "modifiable." Now that certain
genetic factors tied to education have been identified, "we can now
begin to examine how other factors -- including public policy,
parental roles and economic status -- dampen or amplify genetic
effects and ultimately devise better remedies to bolster
educational outcomes," he said.
The consortium includes researchers at NYU, Erasmus University,
Cornell University, Harvard University, the University of Bristol,
and the University of Queensland and other institutions.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health provides more information
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