Our genes have a significant impact on reading ability, according to a new DNA study at King’s College London. The findings highlight the potential of using genetic scores to predict strengths and weaknesses in children’s learning abilities.
For the study, the researchers used a genetic scoring technique to help predict young students’ reading skills. The findings show that a genetic score comprised of about 20,000 DNA variants explains 5 percent of the differences between children’s reading abilities.
Students with the highest and lowest genetic scores differed by a whole two years in their reading performance.
The study authors note that although 5 percent may seem like a relatively small amount, this is actually substantial compared to other contributing factors related to reading skills. For example, gender differences have been found to explain less than 1 percent of the differences between children in reading ability.
According to the study authors, these scores could one day be used to identify and address reading difficulties early, rather than waiting for children to develop these problems at school.
“We hope these findings will contribute to better policy decisions that recognize and respect genetically driven differences between children in their reading ability,” said senior author Professor Robert Plomin, long recognized as an expert on behavioral genetics.
The research team calculated genetic scores (also called polygenic scores) for educational achievement in 5,825 individuals from the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS) based on genetic variants already known to be associated with educational attainment. They then mapped these scores against reading ability between the ages of seven and 14.
DNA scores accounted for up to 5 percent of the differences between children’s reading skills. The link remained significant even after accounting for cognitive ability and family socio-economic status.
“The value of polygenic scores is that they make it possible to predict genetic risk and resilience at the level of the individual. This is different to twin studies, which tell us about the overall genetic influence within a large population of people,” said doctoral student and first author Saskia Selzam, like Plomin from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London.
“We think this study provides an important starting point for exploring genetic differences in reading ability, using polygenic scoring. For instance, these scores could enable research on resilience to developing reading difficulties and how children respond individually to different interventions.”
The findings are published in the journal Scientific Studies of Reading.
Source: King’s College London