April 28, 2013
Embryo Selection For Higher IQ Kids Getting Close

Long time brain genetics researcher Robert Plomin and his colleagues are getting much closer to identifying genetic variants that cause IQ differences. The title of their latest paper signals an impressive accomplishment: Common DNA Markers Can Account for More Than Half of the Genetic Influence on Cognitive Abilities.

Note that they haven't actually identified the genes or genetic variants causing differences in IQ. Rather, they've discovered genetic variants "in the neighborhood", figuratively speaking. Lots of genetic variants vary together. They used 1.7 million known variants and discovered variants that correlate with differences in IQ.

What is very important here: To boost offspring IQ we do not need to know the specific genetic variants that cause IQ differences. The "in the neighborhood" variants that are tied to the real IQ boosters are close enough. They can be used for pre-implantation embryo genetic testing to choose suitable IVF embryos for implantation.

My advice for young prospective parents: You might want to wait a few years for research into genes and offspring traits to mature. You might also want to start saving for the IVF and genetic testing that'll let you make a better babies. You might need to travel to a different legal jurisdiction to get unrestricted genetic testing of embryos. For example, the United States might clamp down on this use of genetic testing in spite of the enormous value of a smarter populace.

Update: I think some commenters are underestimating the potential IQ lift of genetic selection for higher IQ. A couple can easily have kids who are 10 IQ points higher or lower than them. The goal of the embryo selection isn't just to have kids with even higher IQs. There is the very substantial benefit of not having kids 5-10-15 IQ points lower than either member of the couple.

The value embryo genetic testing is probably greatest (on average) for smarter couples who are at high risk of regression to the mean. However, in a few years time genetic testing of couples will enable couples to know the range of IQs their hypothetical kids would have and what the distribution (i.e. the odds) would look life if they had children the old fashioned way. Armed with this information, couples could know about how many embyros on average they'd need to sort thru to get a big IQ boost in their offspring and what their downside risks are from old style reproduction.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2013 April 28 07:23 PM 


Comments
destructure said at April 29, 2013 5:59 AM:

My advice for young prospective parents: You might want to wait a few years for research into genes and offspring traits to mature.

I strongly disagree. It will be at least a decade and probably much longer before anything like that becomes available. Anyone who's currently married will likely be too old by that time. The best time to start a family is always NOW. Then, if the tech becomes available in time, one can have another child. Even when it does become available it will likely mean the difference between an IQ of 100 and 107 -- not 100 and 140. Most couples couldn't produce a 140 child no matter how many embryos were screened. Is it really worth missing out on having children for 5 or 6 points?

faruq said at April 29, 2013 11:44 AM:

there are many other factors besides iq,such as having an agreeable personality that matter more i belive.

DdR said at April 29, 2013 12:32 PM:

I've discussed this issue with my girlfriend in the past, whom I'll likely marry and with whom I'll then have children.

She's vehemently opposed to the notion of genetic testing outside of mental retardation as she believes that she's practicing enough eugenics by selecting me to be her mate. While she concedes that you're still rolling the dice, she'd rather do that than have a child born in vitro whose traits have been pre-selected. The whole romantic sentiment of a child made from love and all.

I won't fight her on this, although I would have major issues if the embryo were mentally retarded. I think most people would share her sentiments as well.

Thus, for me and my possible offspring the best chance to rise above our genetic load is to spell-check our genome:

http://westhunt.wordpress.com/2012/03/09/get-smart/

bbartlog said at April 29, 2013 1:15 PM:

That *would* be your best bet if it were actually going to become available in the same timeframe as the embryo selection. But it's not nearly as close to fruition. I recommend just having an extra kid. That at least increases the average intelligence of your brightest offspring substantially.

Phillep Harding said at April 29, 2013 5:56 PM:

Might be an idea to freeze some eggs and sperm. These advances never happen as fast as the boosters say they will, and freezing samples now avoids age related problems later.

Abelard Lindsey said at April 29, 2013 6:18 PM:

You might need to travel to a different legal jurisdiction to get unrestricted genetic testing of embryos. For example, the United States might clamp down on this use of genetic testing in spite of the enormous value of a smarter populace.

She's vehemently opposed to the notion of genetic testing outside of mental retardation as she believes that she's practicing enough eugenics by selecting me to be her mate.

Embryo sorting on the basis of PGD (pre-emplantation genetic diagnosis) is already being done in the U.S. There is actually very little regulation of whats called reprogenetics here in the U.S. These techniques can easily be offered as service by clinics that do IVF, I think IVF clinics will offer these kinds of services within 10 years here in the U.S. The same will be the case for much of East and South Asia as well.

It is Europe that tightly regulates reprogenetics. The Germans because they are still trying to live down Hitler and the rest of the Europeans simply because they believe politicians and bureaucrats should regulate every aspect of life there.

Ronald Brak said at April 29, 2013 6:49 PM:

Selecting for variants that are likely to have higher IQ may also be selecting for children that are more likely to have autism or autism spectrum disorders. Having a child on the autisic spectrum will make parents less likely to have additional children. If parents instead select for children that are more likely to be pleasent to raise, they will be more likely to have additional children and when these pleasent people reproduce their children will have a tendency to be pleasent which will make them more likely to have additional children and so pleasents may outnumber high IQs. In the past a child that was pleasent and failed to compete effectively for resources may have died, but this is unlikely nowadays. But selecting for pleasent children is also likely to increase the incidence of schizophrenia. Austism and schizophrenia appear to be opposite sides of the same coin, with people whose genes fall too far on the side of exploiting the mother's resources falling on the autism spectrum and those whose genes fall too far on the side of sparing the mother's resources being at risk of schizophrenia.

Randall Parker said at April 29, 2013 8:42 PM:

destructure,

Why the whole decade? What big hurdle do you see? Consider:

We've got IVF. The first test tube baby was born in 1978. Old tech. Being improved upon.

Next up: We've got pre-implantation genetic testing. Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis was first done in 1989. Embryo genetic testing for a short list (in the hundreds) of genetic variants is already done with gene chips. Adult human testing with about 1 million genetic variants is also already done, and at very low cost.

We need the knowledge of which genetic variants to test for. That is all. The knowledge is close at hand. We'll know the genetic variants (single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs) to test for in a few years. Robert Plomen et. al. have already identify many of them. Read the report I linked to.

So what's the obstacle? Regulations. But suppose you can get yourself and the wive genetically tested for IQ variants for every single chromosome separately. Then you can feed the info into a computer and it tells you that your range of offspring IQ possibilities goes from 100 to 145 IQ. My guess the extremes for some people are really that large or larger. Okay, then you can be told what your odds are across that distribution and how many embryos (on average) you'd need to sort thru to get a baby above, say 130 IQ. Well, great. Now we have a solid reason to take a couple of trips to Bermuda or the Caymans or wherever you can get the testing and IVF done.

I'm saying a lot of smart parents with upper middle class incomes will jump at this. I also think single women will advertise for men who have the genetic profile needed to make the number of embryos needed much smaller and the upside much greater. A brave new world is right around the corner.

Engineer Dad said at April 30, 2013 9:59 PM:

... In other news, leftist progressivism appears to have died today as a result of a medical study published in the journal 'Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences'.

Stanford study says MRI scans can predict outcome of math tutoring

Menon's research team took MRI scans of 24 third-graders just before they underwent eight weeks of rigorous math tutoring. A control group of children also had their brains scanned, but they didn't get any tutoring.

The kids who were tutored showed across-the-board gains in their arithmetic skills, with the levels of their improvement varying wildly -- from 8 percent improvement up to 198 percent. The children in the control group showed no signs of improvement.

The researchers found that the kids who responded the best to tutoring tended to have a larger and more active hippocampus. Named after the Greek word for "seahorse," the spirally
hippocampus is known to play an important role in learning and memory. But its role in mastering specific skills -- like math -- hadn't been explored until now.

http://www.mercurynews.com/science/ci_23132946/stanford-study-says-mri-scans-can-predict-outcome

Phillep Harding said at May 1, 2013 11:48 AM:

"Tutoring" aka "home schooling"?

destructure said at May 1, 2013 10:14 PM:

We need the knowledge of which genetic variants to test for. That is all.

One not only needs to know which variants to test for, one also needs to know how those variants interact with other variants. Genes don't exist in isolation but as part of genetic complexes. And the brain is the least understood organ by far. That's one of the reasons the government just launched the BRAIN project. Researchers still don't understand how it works. They haven't even discovered all the genes involved in autism or homosexuality, let alone how they work.

A gene that causes cancer in a small percentage of the population might also protect the overwhelming majority from depression or schizophrenia. Or a gene that gives someone a 5 point boost in combination with some gene combinations might cause early dementia in combination with other gene combinations. It may be better and it may be worse. The point is that it's more than a single gene, we don't know the secondary effects of altering single genes, and it will be at least a decade or longer before we do.

I repeat what I said earlier. It's foolish to postpone children waiting for tech that may not come in time. The best time to have children is always NOW. Then, if the tech becomes available, one can have more.

Ronald Brak said at May 2, 2013 5:12 PM:

Schizophrenics and their blood relatives do appear to have increased resistance to cancer.

Abelard Lindsey said at May 5, 2013 10:57 AM:

The best time to have children is always NOW.

I would think the best time to have kids is when you are financially prepared to have them.

destructure said at May 7, 2013 1:02 AM:

I would think the best time to have kids is when you are financially prepared to have them.

That's one of those things that sounds like good advice but isn't. I read a study a while back which said having children earlier motivates people to grow up and get their ish together. So people who have children at 23 are, on average, better off financially at 30 than those who waited to 30 when they were "financially prepared".

DdR said at May 7, 2013 11:44 AM:

"That's one of those things that sounds like good advice but isn't. I read a study a while back which said having children earlier motivates people to grow up and get their ish together. So people who have children at 23 are, on average, better off financially at 30 than those who waited to 30 when they were "financially prepared"."

Please post a link to the study, because I find this hard to believe.

Abelard Lindsey said at May 7, 2013 2:48 PM:

That's one of those things that sounds like good advice but isn't. I read a study a while back which said having children earlier motivates people to grow up and get their act together.

The plenitude of irresponsible people with kids makes clear to me this is rubbish.

Tom said at May 19, 2013 3:08 PM:

I am more concerned about things that can limit potential like anxiety, depression, nutrient deficiencies, etc.

Alexander Gabriel said at August 3, 2013 6:15 AM:

Thanks for this post. I have been seeking information about the following issue:

What is very important here: To boost offspring IQ we do not need to know the specific genetic variants that cause IQ differences. The "in the neighborhood" variants that are tied to the real IQ boosters are close enough. They can be used for pre-implantation embryo genetic testing to choose suitable IVF embryos for implantation.

Can you provide some source for this claim? Intuitively, it seems correct to me, but an expert source or at least a news article would be good.

From destructure's post:

One not only needs to know which variants to test for, one also needs to know how those variants interact with other variants. Genes don't exist in isolation but as part of genetic complexes.

I have heard similar claims to this repeated by people like Lee Silver. I don't understand them. One reason is that, as noted in this post, we apparently already found the variants. If you really had to know how they interact, then you wouldn't get statistical significance when estimating a linear model as Plomin has done. Right? So what are these people talking about?

My current guess is that many individuals connected with the industry are biased toward minimizing socially unacceptable applications of their research. So many people who appear from their credentials to be very informed and good sources are actually pushing damage-control rubbish.

And now actually, I have another question for Mr. Parker. What do we actually lack that stops selection for IQ right now? They already did "next-generation sequencing" on an IVF baby, which means they can read the entire genome. So why couldn't I approach scientists with $300,000 and say, just get me an embryo selected via IQ, let's do this?

Randall Parker said at August 3, 2013 7:38 PM:

Alexander,

Regards your final question: I think embryo selection is possible today just using Plomin's results. Though he hasn't discovered all the markers you'd want to use he has discovered some of them. What you'd need:

- gene chips built to test the variants he tested. It obviously exists. Who was his supplier?

- a reproductive tech MD willing and able to send the cells to the testing facility.

- get tested to check for suitable genetic markers in yourself and your mate. You would need to find out whether you have various variations of markers in your embryos to choose between. So you would need to do this step first and find out how many if the variants you each have at each location (you've got pairs of chromosomes and so each location occurs twice). One or two? If you have the same variant at each of the locations that matter then you aren't going to have embryos to choose between.

My guess is that for regulatory reasons you would need to do the extraction of cells from embryos outside the United States. You might be able to fly the samples to the US for testing. Or maybe to the UK.

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