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Almost 1,300 Genes Seem Tied to Academic Success

TUESDAY, July 24, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- If you ever wonder why you never managed to finish college, some of the explanation may lie in your DNA.

Scientists report that they have pinpointed nearly 1,300 genetic variants that appear to be associated with how far someone may go in school.

The findings move researchers "in a clearer direction in understanding the genetic architecture of complex behavior 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 percent 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 percent to 13 percent 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 behavioral outcome," Wedow said in a university news release.

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 July 23 in the journal Nature Genetics.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers resources on teens and school.

SOURCE: University of Colorado at Boulder, news release, July 23, 2018

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