May 30, 2013
3 Genetic Variants For Educational Attainment Found

Genetic variants that influences intellectual ability each make very small contributions. One reason for this is that the brain is very complex. To boost performance by a large amount it is not enough to tweak just one gene. Many different genes must be tweaked. This makes the job of finding genetic variants for IQ differences much harder to find. But the cost of genetic testing has gotten low enough that the search for IQ genes is starting to turn up useful results. Here's another report, this time from the Social Science Genetic Association Consortium (SSGAC): A few genetic variants that are associated with differences in educational attainment have been found by genetically testing about 125,000 people.

A multi-national team of researchers has identified genetic markers that predict educational attainment by pooling data from more than 125,000 individuals in the United States, Australia, and 13 western European countries.

The study, which appears in the journal Science, was conducted by the Social Science Genetic Association Consortium (SSGAC), which includes researchers at NYU, Erasmus University, Cornell University, Harvard University, the University of Bristol, and the University of Queensland, among other institutions.

The SSGAC conducted what is called a genome-wide association study (GWAS) to explore the link between genetic variation and educational attainment—the number of years of schooling completed by an individual and whether he or she graduated college. In a GWAS, researchers test hundreds of thousands of genetic markers for association with some characteristics such as a disease, trait or life outcome.

I am impressed that that the SSGAC exists. Social scientists looking for genetic evidence. It says something about the difficulty of the search that 125,000 people were needed to find genetic markers associated with a pretty small portion of the differences in educational attainment. Much larger data sets are needed.

A key claim from the abstract: "Three independent SNPs are genome-wide significant (rs9320913, rs11584700, rs4851266), and all three replicate."

The single nucleotide polymorphisms examined only account for 2% of differences in educational attainment.

Combining the 2 million examined SNPs, the SSGAC researchers were able to explain about 2 percent of the variation in educational attainment across individuals, and they anticipate that this figure will rise as larger samples become available.

We need larger data sets, perhaps a few million people. Plus, we need more genetic variants to test, including much lower frequency genetic variants.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2013 May 30 10:44 PM 

Phillep Harding said at May 31, 2013 12:38 PM:

Sounds worse than trying to breed for the most profitable deep red color in a fox fur (fur farms). Turned out that the fur farmers had to breed many fox with inferior colors in order to get that best color.

Hope it does not mean we have to breed idiots or sociopaths, or something, to get geniuses.

bbartlog said at June 1, 2013 3:16 PM:

I wonder whether most of the variation in intelligence might not be accounted for simply by how crappy your particular draw of random mutations (genetic load) is. Under such a model, most everyone would have a pretty solid set of common variants for high intelligence. But there would be a vast, seething variation in terms of how much damage the shotgun of genetic mutation had done to the potential for intelligence in your particular gene line. That, unfortunately, would suck in terms of getting useful information out of population-wide studies like this one. But on the plus side, it would mean that if we *did* manage to figure out what all of those rare random SNPs did, the likely variation between embryo candidates for pre-implantation genetic screening would probably tend to be quite high, and good candidates for high intelligence would tend to be available.

destructure said at June 1, 2013 6:16 PM:

Hope it does not mean we have to breed idiots or sociopaths, or something, to get geniuses. -- Phillep Harding

What makes you think those are mutually exclusive?

Phillep Harding said at June 3, 2013 10:01 AM:

"...mutually exclusive?"

I did not intend to imply that. This could be tested for by seeing if geniuses have an excess of out of median relatives. (Infidelity corrected for.)

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