Published: 30-05-2013 00:00 | Updated: 29-10-2014 16:20

Genetic variants linked to educational level

An international collaboration involving data from, amongst other sources, the Swedish Twin Registry at Karolinska Institutet, has found several DNA variants that show a statistically significant association with educational attainment. The study is published in the scientific journal Science and is based on the results of 50 different sub-studies.

The study, in which several Swedish higher education institutes took part, was done in two phases. Firstly, the researchers analysed two million genetic variants in 100,000 participants, whereupon three DNA sequences could be identified as being associated with educational level. This finding could then be confirmed by a new material base comprising an additional 25,000 participants.

"The effect of the individual genetic variants identified is small, about one month longer education at most, which means that people with double gene-variants have studied on average two months more than someone without such a gene pairing", says Dr Patrik Magnusson, docent at Karolinska Institutet and one of the researchers involved in the study.

By creating a predictor based on all the analysed markers simultaneously, the researchers could explain roughly two per cent of the variation in length of study. The researchers also examined the relationship between the aggregate value of the education genes and cognitive function in young people, and found an equally strong correlation there.

The study is by far the largest of its kind and identifies for the first time individual genetic variants with a high level of statistical reliability. The three sequences described will now be studied in more detail in follow-up studies on humans and animals.

"Research of this kind will enhance our knowledge of the biological processes behind learning, memory, reading and writing difficulties and diseases such as dementia", says Dr Magnusson, who is also the deputy director of the Twin Registry.

The present study was conducted under the international Social Science Genetics Association Consortium (SSGAC). Involved alongside Karolinska Institutet were the Stockholm School of Economics, the Sahlgrenska Academy and Gothenburg and Uppsala universities. The study was led by researchers at universities in the USA and the Netherlands, and financed with grants from the American National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Söderberg Foundation.


GWAS of 126,559 individuals identifies genetic variants associated with educational attainment.
Rietveld C, Medland S, Derringer J, Yang J, Esko T, Martin N, et al
Science 2013 Jun;340(6139):1467-71