Predicting reading ability from DNA analysis

Researchers from King’s College London have used a genetic scoring technique to predict reading performance throughout school years from DNA alone.

Saskia Selzam and colleagues calculated genetic scores for educational achievement in 5,825 individuals from the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS) based on genetic variants identified to be important for educational achievement. They then mapped these scores against reading ability between the ages of 7 and 14.

The report, published in Scientific Studies of Reading, found there was a correlation between children’s DNA and their reading ability. Genetic scores were found to explain up to five percent of the differences between children in their reading ability. The children with the highest and lowest genetic scores had reading abilities almost two years apart. This association remained significant even after accounting for cognitive ability and family socioeconomic status.

The researchers note that although five percent may seem a relatively small amount, it is substantial compared to other results related to reading. For example, gender differences have been found to explain less than one percent of the differences between children in reading ability. The use of genetic scoring in education as an early screening tool to help identify those at particular genetic risk of reading problems, they propose, could lead to tailored intervention and prevention according to an individual child’s needs.

Source: Genome-wide polygenic scores predict reading performance throughout the school years (March 2017), Scientific Studies of Reading

The gene genie

Researchers at King’s College, the University of Warwick, and the University of New Mexico have published a new paper exploring the role of genes in educational achievement. They wanted to test the hypothesis that genetic differences (heritability) in educational achievement persist throughout compulsory education, as assessed by GCSEs at age 16.

The authors used data on 11,117 twins born in England and Wales between 1994 and 1996 recruited into the Twins Early Development Study and considered genetics, shared or common factors, and non-shared or unique environmental components. They found that heritability was substantial (58% of the variation) for overall GCSE performance for compulsory core subjects. In contrast, the overall effects of the shared environment, which includes all family and school influences shared by twins growing up in the same family and attending the same school, accounted for about 36% of the variance of mean GCSE scores.

They suggest that the significance of these findings is that individual differences in educational achievement can be attributed much more to genetics than to school or family environment, and conclude that this supports personalised learning.

Source: Strong Genetic Influence on a UK Nationwide Test of Educational Achievement at the End of Compulsory Education at Age 16 (2013), PLoS ONE.