New study shows genetic role in education

May 31 2013

Professor Rodney Scott

Professor Rodney Scott: ‘Educational attainment goes beyond the environmental’.
A multinational consortium of medical researchers and social scientists has found a link between educational attainment and tiny variations in a person’s genetic sequence.

The data of more than 126,000 people from around the world, including 2,500 from the Hunter Region, was studied, looking specifically at a genetic variation called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and the bearing on schooling years and completion of tertiary education.

University of Newcastle researchers Professor Rodney Scott, Dr Chris Oldmeadow, Dr Liz Holliday and Professor John Attia worked on the study, with the findings published today in the online issue of Science magazine.

“As the first major investigation into the genetics of social science, it showed there are factors in educational attainment that go beyond the environmental,” Professor Scott said.

“The contribution of genetics appears to be relatively minor – representing around 2% – but these factors are associated with persistence … and educational attainment is mostly about perseverance.

“Hopefully it will be useful in allowing everyone to achieve their maximum potential.”

Professor Scott says mankind has long needed a combination of ‘thinkers’ and ‘doers’, which might explain this genetic difference. Importantly, these findings may point towards other aspects of a persons’ health especially in terms of aging.

University of Queensland researcher Professor Peter Visscher, who also collaborated in the study, hopes the genetic discovery could help determine why some people are more susceptible to early cognitive decline than others.

“We are interested in understanding differences between people in memory and learning because that may lead to a better understanding of why some people cognitively age better than others, and why some people are genetically more susceptible to dementia,” Professor Visscher said.

* Professor Rodney Scott researches in conjunction with HMRI’s Information Based Medicine Program. HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.