Yes, our genes affect everything we do, from educational attainment to health, but they are only a contributing factor

The cost of DNA sequencing continues to fall, and the scale and reach of genetic research continues to grow with it. We can use genetics to study not just health and fundamental biology but many things humans do – education, behaviours, parenting skills – leading to interesting scientific papers and sometimes breathless headlines in the mainstream press. But what can DNA really tell us about our potential and our behaviours? Is the science sound? How should society use this knowledge?

Broadly speaking, yes, the science is sound. The human genome varies slightly between all of us. Once you study enough people – often more than 10,000 – genetic variation will have some kind of impact on nearly anything we do. There are many factors that contribute to complex measurements or behaviours, such as performance in school, so lots of weak effects can add up to a substantial impact. However, the degree to which this variation affects individuals can be quite different depending on what you are looking at. For example, up to 80% of what determines height lies in our genetic code, but only 30% of the causes of multiple sclerosis are genetic. Reasonably complex outcomes, such as the score in an IQ test, or whether you stay in education beyond the age of 16, also have quite substantial genetic components – between 50 to 60%.

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Read More DNA is not our destiny; it’s just a very useful tool | Ewan Birney

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