LOS ANGELES, July 24 (Xinhua) -- An international research team has identified nearly 1,300 genetic variants associated with how much education someone may complete, far more than the 74 variants initially discovered in a smaller study two years ago.
Although primarily influenced by environmental and social factors, years of schooling are also influenced by genes associated with cognitive function such as memory and personality traits, according to the latest research, published on the latest issue of the journal Nature Genetics.
The study, led by the Social Science Genetic Association Consortium and conducted by seventy-eight researchers, is one of the largest genetics studies to date. The scientists analyzed a combined 71 datasets comprising over 1.1 million participants with European ancestry from 15 different countries and who were at least 30 years old.
"Even variants with the largest effects predict, on average, only about three more weeks of schooling in those who have those variants compared to those who don't," Daniel Benjamin, corresponding author and associate professor for the Center for Economic and Social Research at USC Dornsife, was quoted as saying in a news release.
To assess the importance of the gene variants in educational attainment, the scientists established a "polygenic score" that captures the predictive power of a combined 1 million genetic variants, including those specifically linked to educational attainment and the other remaining variants that the scientists had measured across the genome.
"We found that many of the genes associated with educational attainment are influential in virtually all stages of brain development and in neural communication within the brain," said Peter Visscher, another senior author of the study and a professor at the University of Queensland.
The total influence of the genetic variants is small, explaining about 4 percent of the variation in educational attainment across individuals, the scientists said.
"Yet, when we analyze the combined effects of many genetic variants, taken together they can predict the length of a person's formal education as well as demographic factors," said Benjamin.