A mustread: The Genetics of Staying in School

I found this article via Daniel Willingham and it is a very good summary of an impressive study that found 74 gene variants that are associated with years of formal schooling. But the article and the study make 1 thing clear: that doesn’t mean that there is such a thing as “education genes.”

And huge it is: almost 294,000 people.

And because the results can easily be misinterpreted (and misused) the researchers released a long FAQ explaining what they did not find. The Atlantic summarizes:

First and foremost, “there are no ‘genes for education’,” says Benjamin. Genes don’t affect education directly. Instead, many of these 74 variants seemed to be switched on in the brains of fetuses and are involved in creating neurons, guiding their movements, and wiring them together. Those biological influences could then affect psychological traits, which then influence social ones.

Read the full article here, this is the abstract of the study:

Educational attainment is strongly influenced by social and other environmental factors, but genetic factors are estimated to account for at least 20% of the variation across individuals1. Here we report the results of a genome-wide association study (GWAS) for educational attainment that extends our earlier discovery sample1, 2 of 101,069 individuals to 293,723 individuals, and a replication study in an independent sample of 111,349 individuals from the UK Biobank. We identify 74 genome-wide significant loci associated with the number of years of schooling completed. Single-nucleotide polymorphisms associated with educational attainment are disproportionately found in genomic regions regulating gene expression in the fetal brain. Candidate genes are preferentially expressed in neural tissue, especially during the prenatal period, and enriched for biological pathways involved in neural development. Our findings demonstrate that, even for a behavioural phenotype that is mostly environmentally determined, a well-powered GWAS identifies replicable associated genetic variants that suggest biologically relevant pathways. Because educational attainment is measured in large numbers of individuals, it will continue to be useful as a proxy phenotype in efforts to characterize the genetic influences of related phenotypes, including cognition and neuropsychiatric diseases.


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