Page URL:

Genetic patterns linked to time in education discovered

30 July 2018
Appeared in BioNews 960

Genetic variants may influence how long people remain in school, according to a study of over 1 million genomes

Researchers identified 1271 genetic variants called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that are linked to how long an individual spends time at school. Each SNP has a minute effect on its own, but together they can account for 11 percent of the variation in how long people remain in education. 

'We can explain education as well with saliva samples as with demographics,' said lead author Dr Daniel Benjamin, a behavioural economist at the University of South California in the US. While 11 percent may seem small, it is greater than the effect of household income, but smaller than parents' educational background. A large proportion of variation is still not accounted for. 

The majority of the newly discovered SNPs, which were found to be highly expressed both early in development and later in life, were strongly associated with neuronal communication, such as the activation of ion channels and neurotransmitter secretion.

In the study, published in Nature Genetics, US researchers analysed the DNA of both men and women of European descent, whose DNA profiles were collected from sources including the UK BioBank. The SNPs were combined into a Polygenic Score for each person and this score was compared to data on how many years of schooling each individual had completed – a good measure of educational attainment.

'If we can identify genetic risks for low cognitive ability, there is an argument for putting extra provisions in place to mitigate against that disadvantage,' Dr Kathryn Asbury, a genetics researcher at University of York who was not involved in the study, told The Atlantic.

'We already do that for environmental disadvantages, such as through additional funding or free school meals. I think we need to seriously consider the implications of biological risk factors and how a fair society should respond to them.'

However, researchers stress that the scoring does not determine an outcome for any individual. Based on this information, study authors propose that any practical advice or policy lessons based on the current research is 'extremely premature and unsupported by the science'. 

'Until the score is better and we understand the causal factors underlying it, I am pretty uncomfortable using it to predict individual outcomes,' said Dr Benjamin. 'There is a lot more work to be done before we even have a conversation about using it that way.'

28 October 2019 - by Julianna Photopoulos 
A new study suggests a 'gene drain' linked to social migration in Great Britain, where people with a genetic predisposition for higher educational attainment are more likely to leave former industrial regions and live in wealthier areas...
20 August 2018 - by Dr Helen Robertson 
Researchers have developed a new way of analysing genomic data that may help identify disease risk much earlier than current predictors...
16 July 2018 - by Paul Waldron 
A person's genes can partly predict their likelihood of success in life, according to a new study...
26 March 2018 - by Julianna Photopoulos 
Good exam results may be down to genetics rather than attending selective schools, suggests a study of nearly 5,000 British students...
16 May 2016 - by Sophie Perry and James Brooks 
One of the largest-ever genetics studies in the social sciences has found 74 genetic variants that are associated with the amount of time an individual spends in education...
3 August 2015 - by Professor Darren Griffin 
A recent report on the heritability of exam results was a well written, clear and robust study in a highly socially relevant area, but a danger lies in how the results could be misinterpreted...
to add a Comment.

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

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.