Almost 1 300 genes tied to academic success

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Scientists have pinpointed almost 1300 genes linked to academic success.
Scientists have pinpointed almost 1300 genes linked to academic success.

If you ever wonder why you never managed to finish college, some of the explanation may lie in your DNA.

The right genes

Scientists report that they have pinpointed nearly 1 300 genetic variants that appear to be associated with how far someone may do academically.

The findings move researchers "in a clearer direction in understanding the genetic architecture of complex behaviour traits like educational attainment," said study co-first author Robbee Wedow. He's a researcher with the University of Colorado's Institute for Behavioral Genetics.

The study included more than 1.1 million people in 15 countries.

Combined, 1 271 genetic variants explain about 4% of the variation in educational attainment between individuals, the researchers said.

However, when the researchers included the effects of all of the variants to create a "polygenic" score, they found it was predictive of 11% to 13% of variation in years of completed schooling.

This means the score's predictive power is similar to that of factors such as household income or a mother's level of education, the study authors said.

"That is a large effect for a polygenic score, especially for a behavioural outcome," Wedow said in a university news release.

What this really means

But while the polygenic score is useful for research, the study does not prove that these genes determine how far someone will go in school.

"Having a low polygenic score absolutely does not mean that someone won't achieve a high level of education," said Wedow. He explained that factors such as ambition, family situation and socioeconomic status play a bigger role than genes.

"As with many other outcomes, it is a complex interplay between environment and genetics that matters," Wedow said.

The findings were published in the journal Nature Genetics.

Image credit: iStock

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