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New study discovers novel genetic associations with educational attainment

Press release issued: 30 May 2013

A worldwide consortium of researchers including academics from the University of Bristol has found that tiny differences across person’s genetic sequences are associated with educational level.

A worldwide consortium of researchers including academics from the University of Bristol has found that tiny differences across person’s genetic sequences are associated with educational level.

The study, published in ScienceExpress, was conducted by the Social Science Genetic Association Consortium.

Philipp Koellinger from the Erasmus School of Economics explained: “The unique feature of our study is that we looked at a sample of unprecedented size in social science genetics research. Overall, we studied the genetic information of more than 125,000 people, looking specifically at a type of genetic variation called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs).”

Mothers from the University of Bristol’s Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) played an important role in this work providing data on both genetic variation and educational attainment.

Dr Nic Timpson from the MRC/University of Bristol Integrative Epidemiology Unit said: “We investigated whether common patterns of variation in our genomes are associated with the number of years of schooling and also whether or not a person had a college degree. 

The study identified a number of SNPs that are robustly associated with educational attainment. No individual SNP accounted for more than 0.02 per cent of the variation in years of schooling. Yet, the data suggested that all SNPs combined could eventually explain up to 20 per cent of variation if even larger samples would be available for analyses.

Philipp Koellinger added: “Educational attainment, like most human behaviour, is influenced both by environmental and genetic factors. Our study is a first step to identify some of these genetic factors. The genetic associations we discovered are only a very small piece of a very large puzzle. But our findings do have a number of significant implications.

Dr Nic Timpson said: “Our study shows that the effects of every single genetic variant on educational attainment are much smaller than many scientists expected, but that they are present. From work such as this we are starting to understand in greater detail the delicate relationship between our genes and the environment and how they go on to shape complex outcomes such as educational attainment.”

Professor Davey Smith, Director of ALSPAC and the MRC/University of Bristol Integrative Epidemiology Unit, added: “In addition to the discovery of new genetic variation associated with educational attainment, future studies such as this can help us to understand how educational attainment causally influences later life chances.”

The study, ‘GWAS of 126,559 individuals identifies genetic variants associated with educational attainment’, is published online on 30 May 2013 in ScienceXpress.

 

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