Study Shows Genetic Links To Academic Achievements in East Asians

Asian Scientist Magazine (Feb. 8, 2023) —Years of education attained (EduYears) is an important trait explored for its association to various socioeconomic outcomes. Beyond its relevance in behavioural genetics, EduYears functions as a proxy for cognitive ability and genetically correlates to several cardiovascular, neurodegenerative and psychiatric disorders—making it just as significant for epidemiology and medical research.

However, until now, genetic studies of EduYears and its link to health conditions have been limited to Western populations. To fill this gap, Professor Won Hong-hee, research fellow Kim Jae-young at the Samsung Advanced Institute for Health Sciences and Technology (SAIHST) and Professor Myung Woo-jae of Seoul National University Bundang Hospital in Korea, led an international research team that undertook the first large-scale genome-wide association study (GWAS) in an East Asian population. Their results were published in Nature Human Behaviour.

Not only did the team set out to locate the genetic markers related to EduYears within this understudied population, but also aimed to perform a cross-ancestry meta-analysis, comparing their findings with a previous GWAS involving individuals of European ancestries.

The study analysed a total of 176,400 samples from biobanks in Korea and Taiwan and later compared them with 766,345 samples of European descent.

The researchers discovered that, like Europeans, East Asians exhibited high positive genetic correlations with EduYears. In fact, there were significant consistencies in the genetic structure, background and effects related to EduYears between the two populations. The cross-population analysis identified a total of 102 genomic locations strongly linked to this heritable trait.

“The significance of our study is that we understand the genetic architecture of educational attainment in East Asians and show that there are many genetic traits that are shared across ethnic groups,” Myung said. “These findings can be used to study how educational attainment is associated with various diseases, such as dementia and mental disorders and to identify ways to prevent and treat these diseases.”

Even though these findings were significant, the authors emphasized that these results alone could not predict an individual’s educational attainment or health outcomes. Such outcomes vary with context and are influenced by intricate mechanisms involving genetic, social and environmental factors.

Importantly, the current study demonstrated the advantages of introducing diversity in GWASs. While identifying the genetic variants most likely to influence EduYears, the researchers discovered that the accuracy of their analysis significantly improved when incorporating results from both populations, as opposed to restricting it to only one. Even polygenic score analyses, which involves estimating an individual’s genetic liability of developing a trait or a disease, performed better when accounting for population diversity.

“It [This study] is expected to facilitate future genetic studies based on diverse populations and provide a more comprehensive understanding of genetic interactions with educational achievement,” said Won.

Source: The Samsung Advanced Institute for Health Sciences & Technology ; Image: Yipei Lieu/ Asian Scientist Magazine

The article can be found at Shared genetic architectures of educational attainment in East Asian and European populations.

Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.


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