JAN 26, 2016 1:28 PM PST

Researchers Find Genetic Overlaps Linking Health and Intelligence

WRITTEN BY: Julianne Chiaet
Researchers recently discovered genetic overlaps in genes linked to mental abilities, education, disorders, and other traits, such as height. 

University of Edinburgh researchers in analyzed data of around 100,000 people from the UK Biobank. The participants were 37 to 73 years old and were recruited from 2006 to 2010. Much of the data was gathered from previous genetic studies that looked at mental and physical health factors. 

“Genetic correlations [show] how much of the genetic influence is shared between two traits,” psychologist and lead author Saskia Hagenaars told LabRoots via email. A higher genetic correlation means there are more shared genetic influences. “The genetic contribution to both traits can be relatively small, but they do overlap between several traits.”

For example, the researchers found that “genes related to being taller are also related to obtaining a college or university degree,” said co-author Stuart Ritchie in an email. “People with more genes linked to cardiovascular disease tended to have lower reasoning ability. Note that these people [don’t] necessarily have cardiovascular disease. Our analysis just asked whether their genetic risk for the disease related to their thinking skills.”

Interestingly, some results were in the opposite direction,” Richie said. “People with more genes related to autism (but mostly not with [an autism] diagnosis) had a slight tendency towards higher reasoning scores and were more likely to have a degree.”

“The genes that increase the risk of some conditions, [such as] autism, bipolar disorder, [and] schizophrenia, may, in the absence of a diagnosis (or in some cases before the onset of the condition), be associated with higher cognitive abilities and greater educational attainment,” said co-lead author Sarah Harris to LabRoots. “These conditions are also heavily influenced by environmental factors. This study did not address whether people with these conditions are more or less likely to have higher cognitive abilities or a degree than people without the conditions.”

“The research highlights the importance of investigating biological pathways that can influence both cognitive function and health-related traits,” Harris said in a press release. 

The study was published today, January 26, 2016, in the journal Molecular Psychiatry

Sources: Personal correspondence with Saskia Hagenaars, who sent me quotes from all three researchers, University of Edinburgh Press release via EurekAlert!, study via Molecular Psychiatry 
About the Author
  • Julianne (@JuliChiaet) covers health and medicine for LabRoots. Her work has been published in The Daily Beast, Scientific American, and MailOnline. While primarily a science journalist, she has also covered culture and Japanese organized crime. She is the New York Board Representative for the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA). • To read more of her writing, or to send her a message, go to Jchiaet.com
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