Subscribe to the BioNews newsletter for free

Advanced Search

Search for

Like the Progress Educational Trust on Facebook



Nature vs Nurture: well-matched opponents

01 June 2015

By Ceri Durham

Appeared in BioNews 804

Researchers studying thousands of human traits have concluded that, overall, they are influenced equally by genetic and environmental factors.

By comparing data from over 50 years' of twin studies, Dutch and Australian scientists say that 49 percent of almost 18,000 traits studied are mostly influenced by genetics and 51 percent are mostly influenced by environmental factors.

However, the relative influence of the two factors varied significantly between types of traits. For example, the risk of bipolar disorder was almost 70 percent influenced by genetics while the risk of eating disorders was only 40 percent due to genetics.

The researchers noted that the heritability of traits was not random, but fell into clusters. So, while neurological, ophthalmological and skeletal traits tended to be highly heritable, traits related to values and attitudes had some of the lowest heritability values, implying that environmental factors play a greater role in such traits.

Suggesting that it is time to move away from the traditional 'nature vs nurture debate', lead co-author Dr Beben Benyamin from the University of Queensland, Australia comments that we should 'instead look at it as nature and nurture'.

Overall, he and his colleagues found that all of the studied traits have some sort of genetic influence, with around two-thirds attributable solely to the cumulative effects of genes.

Dr Benyamin told the Guardian: 'Genetics contribute to all traits - the difference is, by how much.'

The research, reported in Nature Genetics, reviewed studies carried out between 1958 and 2012, including more than 14 million twins worldwide.

These used a classic twin-study design to compare non-identical to identical twins. These are conducted on the rationale that, while it can be assumed that environmental factors have been the same for each pair of twins, the genetic make-up is different for the non-identical twins. Such studies can therefore identify the influence of genetic heritability.

However, the authors note that data from twin studies alone are insufficient to explain why certain traits might deviate from a simple genetic pattern of inheritance.

'Additional data are required, for example from large population samples with extensive phenotypic and DNA sequence information, detailed measures of environmental exposures and larger pedigrees, including non-twin relationships,' they comment.

The Guardian | 19 May 2015
Science News | 26 May 2015
Nature Genetics | 18 May 2015
University of Queensland (press release) | 19 May 2015
Mail Online | 19 May 2015


09 March 2015 - by Sophie McLachlan 
A UK twin study estimates that between 56 and 95 percent of autism spectrum disorder cases are attributable to genetics...
19 January 2015 - by Kirsty Oswald 
A twin study has shown that the majority of variation in immunity between individuals is due to non-genetic factors.
13 October 2014 - by Chris Baldacci 
Researchers may have finally settled the question of which matters more for a child's development - nature or nurture; and nature appears to be the winner, according to a study looking at GCSE scores...
06 December 2010 - by Harriet Vickers 
Overweight families have overweight cats, Detroit has a higher murder rate than the UK and a flock of goldfinches is called a charm. All these effects are evidently mainly environmental. They're caused by overfeeding, more gangs and guns, and the standard and focus of education, respectively. But Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University College London, UK, argued last week these factors are often overlooked because of our obsession with genetics...
07 June 2010 - by Dr Tamara Hirsch 
Women who inherit genes linked to breast cancer have no greater risk than other women of developing the disease as a result of lifestyle choices, including hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and alcohol consumption, according to a recent study in The Lancet....

Be the first to have your say.

You need to or  to add comments.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

- click here to enquire about using this story.

Published by the Progress Educational Trust


Public Conference
8 December 2017

Speakers include

Professor Azim Surani

Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge

Sally Cheshire

Professor Guido Pennings

Katherine Littler

Professor Allan Pacey

Dr Sue Avery

Professor Richard Anderson

Dr Elizabeth Garner

Dr Andy Greenfield

Dr Anna Smajdor

Dr Henry Malter

Vivienne Parry

Dr Helen O'Neill

Dr César Palacios-González

Philippa Taylor

Fiona Fox

Sarah Norcross

Sandy Starr


Good Fundraising Code

Become a Friend of PET HERE and give the Progress Educational Trust a regular donation