How well one will do in school is often predicted by various cognitive, socioeconomic, and health factors. Thus, identifying specific genetic (and environmental) factors to individual differences in academic attainment (AA) and understanding the origins of these observed relationships could be informative for societal issues.
A large body of twin and DNA-based research robustly demonstrates that AA and learning abilities are heritable. A recent meta-analysis of 61 twin studies reported a heritability estimate of 66% for AA. To date, GWAS of math ability using general population samples have been limited in size (N = 602 to 3000 individuals) and thus far have failed to identify robustly associated variants. In addition, there have been no published GWAS for standardized attainment scores in English and math during adolescence and no GWAS at all for science. The following study aims to assess whether academic subject-specific genetic contributions to English, math, and science exist.
Researchers performed genome-wide association studies of standardized national English, math, and science tests using the UK-based Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) data. The performance in the three academic subjects were assessed using National Curriculum-based Standardized Assessment tests (SATs) at 11 and 14 years of age. The academic attainment average scores for English (N = 5983), math (N = 6017) and science (N = 6089) were calculated by summing age- and SAT scores from these two-time points for each academic subject. After the genotyping, one genome-wide significant single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) was identified for attainment in science, but none for attainment in English or math. Further 26 independent SNPs showed suggestive evidence of association with science, 38 for math and 16 for English. The A allele of rs11264236 and the T allele of rs10905791 showed tendencies to increase academic scores in science. It also found that science was significantly more correlated with English and math than with each other, suggesting that academic performance in science might incorporate variance from the other two subjects.
While no significant differences in genetic correlations between academic subjects were found, the opposite pattern of associations was observed, with English and math being the most highly genetically correlated. One possible explanation is that the factors contributing to performance between science and maths, and science and English, are under greater environmental influence than those contributing to the correlation between English and maths performance, which correlate more for genetic reasons. Note, it is possible that this is a specific effect of this period of development for children. Read more about the study here:
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