Earlier this week, scientists revealed that human intelligence could be accurately assessed by an MRI scanner. Now researchers at King’s College London have suggested that school performance can be predicted by DNA.
The study focuses on an individual’s “polygenic score”, which is calculated based on the presence or absence of 20,000 common DNA variants, the FT reported. Together, the DNA variants explain as much as 10% of a child’s educational attainment at the age of 16.
It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s by far the best DNA-based indicator yet of someone’s academic ability. King’s Saskia Selzam told the FT: “When we think about differences between boys and girls in maths, gender explains about 1% of the variance.”
Privacy campaigners are, however, likely to oppose a move to share DNA with schools, fearing that the data could be used to segregate students.
Nevertheless, the research team hopes that polygenic scores could identify learning difficulties before they have developed. King’s Professor Robert Plomin told the FT: “These details could guide additional support that is tailored to a child’s individual needs.”
Children with high polygenic scores achieved GCSEs at A and B level and had a 65% chance of going on to study A-levels. Those with low scores averaged Bs and Cs and had a 35% chance of studying at sixth form.
“This makes a real difference for life chances,” researchers said. “Twice as many of the individuals with the highest polygenic scores go on to university as compared to those with the lowest scores.”
This week, scientists at the University of Warwick conclusively found that the frequency at which someone can change neural connections with the other parts of the brain was directly linked to IQ and creativity. What’s more, this can be assessed by an MRI scanner, potentially relegating IQ tests to history.
Scientists hope that the research will help inform the development of artificial intelligence.