Growing up, when you brought home an A on a test, did your parents ever argue over who’s side of the family “the smarts” came from? I can recall complete reconstructions of the family tree based on what subjects my sister and I were excelling in.
In reality, the grades probably had more to do with good study habits and a certain pride in my work, but new research indicates that there may be more of a genetic component than previously realized. In addition to diet, as we learned in my last post, recent work from Dr. Paul Thompson’s team reveals that genetic variations can have measurable impacts on learning and intelligence. I came across his work thanks to a great piece written by Moheb Costandi at ScienceNOW.
Intelligence does appear to be a moderately heritable trait that can run in families, but we’re still not aware of all the genes that are responsible. Of course, there are many other factors that will affect your smarts, but it has to be coded inside you to some degree, doesn’t it?
Dr. Thompson knew of studies implicating some genes in very subtle effects on intelligence, but he wanted to go more in-depth. Therefore, he founded an international research consortium called the ENIGMA Network. These researchers use brain scans coupled with genetic data to study brain structure and function as well as intelligence.
In a study published this month in the Journal of Neuroscience, his team reports the discovery of more genetic differences linked with brain structure and IQ. These are merely differences in the genetic code between different people. They found 24 such variations spread across 6 genes. Some of these differences were linked with people who performed higher on standard IQ tests. Interestingly, there appear to be some synergistic effects, as people with more than one of the variations scored even higher than you might expect.
Some of these genes were already known in the field, but what was new in this work is that these genes were found to be important for brain cell integrity. It makes sense, because these cells are critical for sending signals throughout the brain. If genes that affect the function of these cells are changed, it would only stand to reason there could be impacts on learning, memory and intelligence.
Intriguing work, and I can’t wait until we further unravel these complex networks. At least I know now that, when my future kids bring home an A in biology, I will not hesitate to inform my wife where those genes came from.
Thanks & Gig ‘Em.