Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Heredity


Online media use has become an increasingly important behavioral domain over the past decade. However, studies into the etiology of individual differences in media use have focused primarily on pathological use. Here, for the first time, we test the genetic influences on online media use in a UK representative sample of 16 year old twins, who were assessed on time spent on educational (N = 2,585 twin pairs) and entertainment websites (N = 2,614 twin pairs), time spent gaming online (N = 2,635 twin pairs), and Facebook use (N = 4,333 twin pairs). Heritability was substantial for all forms of online media use, ranging from 34% for educational sites to 37% for entertainment sites and 39% for gaming. Furthermore, genetics accounted for 24% of the variance in Facebook use. Our results support an active model of the environment, where young people choose their online engagements in line with their genetic propensities.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Biology, Gregor Mendel, Heredity, Heritability, Debut albums


Assessing the impact of the social environment on health and disease is challenging. As social effects are in part determined by the genetic makeup of social partners, they can be studied from associations between genotypes of one individual and phenotype of another (social genetic effects, SGE, also called indirect genetic effects). For the first time we quantified the contribution of SGE to more than 100 organismal phenotypes and genome-wide gene expression measured in laboratory mice. We find that genetic variation in cage mates (i.e. SGE) contributes to variation in organismal and molecular measures related to anxiety, wound healing, immune function, and body weight. Social genetic effects explained up to 29% of phenotypic variance, and for several traits their contribution exceeded that of direct genetic effects (effects of an individual’s genotypes on its own phenotype). Importantly, we show that ignoring SGE can severely bias estimates of direct genetic effects (heritability). Thus SGE may be an important source of “missing heritability” in studies of complex traits in human populations. In summary, our study uncovers an important contribution of the social environment to phenotypic variation, sets the basis for using SGE to dissect social effects, and identifies an opportunity to improve studies of direct genetic effects.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Natural selection, Genotype, Evolution, Phenotype, Heredity


Progress in regenerative medicine requires reverse-engineering cellular control networks to infer perturbations with desired systems-level outcomes. Such dynamic models allow phenotypic predictions for novel perturbations to be rapidly assessed in silico. Here, we analyzed a Xenopus model of conversion of melanocytes to a metastatic-like phenotype only previously observed in an all-or-none manner. Prior in vivo genetic and pharmacological experiments showed that individual animals either fully convert or remain normal, at some characteristic frequency after a given perturbation. We developed a Machine Learning method which inferred a model explaining this complex, stochastic all-or-none dataset. We then used this model to ask how a new phenotype could be generated: animals in which only some of the melanocytes converted. Systematically performing in silico perturbations, the model predicted that a combination of altanserin (5HTR2 inhibitor), reserpine (VMAT inhibitor), and VP16-XlCreb1 (constitutively active CREB) would break the all-or-none concordance. Remarkably, applying the predicted combination of three reagents in vivo revealed precisely the expected novel outcome, resulting in partial conversion of melanocytes within individuals. This work demonstrates the capability of automated analysis of dynamic models of signaling networks to discover novel phenotypes and predictively identify specific manipulations that can reach them.

Concepts: Scientific method, Gene, Genotype, Evolution, In vivo, Phenotype, Logic, Heredity


The human face is a complex trait under strong genetic control, as evidenced by the striking visual similarity between twins. Nevertheless, heritability estimates of facial traits have often been surprisingly low or difficult to replicate. Furthermore, the construction of facial phenotypes that correspond to naturally perceived facial features remains largely a mystery. We present here a large-scale heritability study of face geometry that aims to address these issues. High-resolution, three-dimensional facial models have been acquired on a cohort of 952 twins recruited from the TwinsUK registry, and processed through a novel landmarking workflow, GESSA (Geodesic Ensemble Surface Sampling Algorithm). The algorithm places thousands of landmarks throughout the facial surface and automatically establishes point-wise correspondence across faces. These landmarks enabled us to intuitively characterize facial geometry at a fine level of detail through curvature measurements, yielding accurate heritability maps of the human face (

Concepts: Genetics, Evolution, General relativity, Face perception, Heredity, Differential geometry, Analytic geometry, Morphology


Male-pattern baldness (MPB) is a common and highly heritable trait characterized by androgen-dependent, progressive hair loss from the scalp. Here, we carry out the largest GWAS meta-analysis of MPB to date, comprising 10,846 early-onset cases and 11,672 controls from eight independent cohorts. We identify 63 MPB-associated loci (P<5 × 10(-8), METAL) of which 23 have not been reported previously. The 63 loci explain ∼39% of the phenotypic variance in MPB and highlight several plausible candidate genes (FGF5, IRF4, DKK2) and pathways (melatonin signalling, adipogenesis) that are likely to be implicated in the key-pathophysiological features of MPB and may represent promising targets for the development of novel therapeutic options. The data provide molecular evidence that rather than being an isolated trait, MPB shares a substantial biological basis with numerous other human phenotypes and may deserve evaluation as an early prognostic marker, for example, for prostate cancer, sudden cardiac arrest and neurodegenerative disorders.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Natural selection, Genotype, Evolution, Phenotype, Heredity, Wilhelm Johannsen


While environmental factors are presumed to be primary drivers of food timing, preliminary evidence suggests that genetics may be an additional determinant. The aim was to explore the relative contribution of genetics and environmental factors to variation in the timing of food intake in a Spanish twin population. Because chronotype, bedtime and wake time are related to food timing, covariance with food timing was further assessed.

Concepts: Genetics, Nutrition, Environment, Food, Heredity, Heritability, Related


Both social environment and genetic factors are critical for smoking initiation and nicotine addiction. We reported that rats developed conditioned flavor (i.e., taste and odor) aversion to intravenously self-administered (IVSA) nicotine, and that social learning promoted nicotine IVSA with flavor cues. We thus tested the hypothesis that socially acquired nicotine IVSA is a heritable trait by using female rats of six inbred strains and six F1 hybrids. Each strain was tested for 10 daily IVSA sessions. We found that the intake of nicotine (15 and 30 μg/kg/inf) varied among these strains by 33.7-56.6-fold. The heritability of nicotine intake was estimated to be 0.54-0.65. Further, there was a strong correlation in nicotine intake (R(2) = 0.85, p < 0.0001) between the two nicotine doses. Another cohort of rats was given three daily IVSA sessions followed by five sessions that tested conditioned flavor aversion. Nicotine intake was highly correlated with the extinction of the conditioned aversion (R(2) = 0.58, p < 0.005). These data showed that nicotine intake in the socially acquired nicotine self-administration model is controlled by genetic factors and that the role of social learning is likely in facilitating the extinction of conditioned aversive response to nicotine.

Concepts: Genetics, Olfaction, Heredity, Breeding, Heritability, Hybrid, Twin study, Heritability of IQ


Intelligence, or general cognitive function, is phenotypically and genetically correlated with many traits, including a wide range of physical, and mental health variables. Education is strongly genetically correlated with intelligence (r g  = 0.70). We used these findings as foundations for our use of a novel approach-multi-trait analysis of genome-wide association studies (MTAG; Turley et al. 2017)-to combine two large genome-wide association studies (GWASs) of education and intelligence, increasing statistical power and resulting in the largest GWAS of intelligence yet reported. Our study had four goals: first, to facilitate the discovery of new genetic loci associated with intelligence; second, to add to our understanding of the biology of intelligence differences; third, to examine whether combining genetically correlated traits in this way produces results consistent with the primary phenotype of intelligence; and, finally, to test how well this new meta-analytic data sample on intelligence predicts phenotypic intelligence in an independent sample. By combining datasets using MTAG, our functional sample size increased from 199,242 participants to 248,482. We found 187 independent loci associated with intelligence, implicating 538 genes, using both SNP-based and gene-based GWAS. We found evidence that neurogenesis and myelination-as well as genes expressed in the synapse, and those involved in the regulation of the nervous system-may explain some of the biological differences in intelligence. The results of our combined analysis demonstrated the same pattern of genetic correlations as those from previous GWASs of intelligence, providing support for the meta-analysis of these genetically-related phenotypes.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Genotype, Evolution, Biology, Phenotype, Heredity, Wilhelm Johannsen


Genome-wide association studies have successfully identified thousands of loci for a range of human complex traits and diseases. The proportion of phenotypic variance explained by significant associations is, however, limited. Given the same dense SNP panels, mixed model analyses capture a greater proportion of phenotypic variance than single SNP analyses but the total is generally still less than the genetic variance estimated from pedigree studies. Combining information from pedigree relationships and SNPs, we examined 16 complex anthropometric and cardiometabolic traits in a Scottish family-based cohort comprising up to 20,000 individuals genotyped for ~520,000 common autosomal SNPs. The inclusion of related individuals provides the opportunity to also estimate the genetic variance associated with pedigree as well as the effects of common family environment. Trait variation was partitioned into SNP-associated and pedigree-associated genetic variation, shared nuclear family environment, shared couple (partner) environment and shared full-sibling environment. Results demonstrate that trait heritabilities vary widely but, on average across traits, SNP-associated and pedigree-associated genetic effects each explain around half the genetic variance. For most traits the recently-shared environment of couples is also significant, accounting for ~11% of the phenotypic variance on average. On the other hand, the environment shared largely in the past by members of a nuclear family or by full-siblings, has a more limited impact. Our findings point to appropriate models to use in future studies as pedigree-associated genetic effects and couple environmental effects have seldom been taken into account in genotype-based analyses. Appropriate description of the trait variation could help understand causes of intra-individual variation and in the detection of contributing loci and environmental factors.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Natural selection, Evolution, Environment, Population genetics, Heredity


We have previously shown that individual differences in educational achievement are highly heritable throughout compulsory education. After completing compulsory education at age 16, students in England can choose to continue to study for two years (A-levels) in preparation for applying to university and they can freely choose which subjects to study. Here, for the first time, we show that choosing to do A-levels and the choice of subjects show substantial genetic influence, as does performance after two years studying the chosen subjects. Using a UK-representative sample of 6584 twin pairs, heritability estimates were 44% for choosing to do A-levels and 52-80% for choice of subject. Achievement after two years was also highly heritable (35-76%). The findings that DNA differences substantially affect differences in appetites as well as aptitudes suggest a genetic way of thinking about education in which individuals actively create their own educational experiences in part based on their genetic propensities.

Concepts: Psychology, Genetics, Education, Concepts in metaphysics, Learning, Heredity, Heritability, History of education