deCODE study highlights the important role of genes in nurture

January 26, 2018, deCode Genetics
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

In a study published tomorrow, researchers at deCODE genetics demonstrate that parental genes, both those that are transmitted to the child and those not transmitted, can affect the child's fate through their impact on the parents and the kind of nurturing they provide. The researchers call this phenomenon "genetic nurture."

Genetic nurturing not only plays an important role in traits such as and the age when a person has his/her first child, it also affects health- and nutrition- related traits such as height, HDL levels, and number of cigarettes smoked. Interestingly, but maybe not surprisingly, the magnitude of genetic nurturing effects from fathers and mothers differ for some traits. Moreover, one can also be affected by genetic nurturing from siblings and other relatives. These results can reframe the discussion of nature versus nurture and lead to a deeper appreciation of the evolutionary success of nurturing in humans and other species.

It is also important to note that many of the recent genetic association studies focused on the transmitted alleles only. In light of the results here, it has to be recognized that, in general, their effect estimates captured both direct genetic effects and genetic nurturing effects. The existence of genetic nurture is also relevant to how heritability should be defined and estimated, e.g. whether genetic nurturing effect should be incorporated, and consequentially related to the issue of "missing heritability" that has been a concern of scientists for more than a decade.

Methodologically, this study differs from most large-scale genetic studies published recently in that it employs only probands (the children) who have at least one parent genotyped. By comparing the effects of the transmitted and non-transmitted alleles, direct genetic effects and genetic nurturing effects can be separated from each other. "The nature of nurture: Effects of parental genotypes" is published 26 January in Science.

"The discussion of nature (genes) versus nurture is often framed so that the two factors are treated as, if not competitive, independent forces. This study illustrates that not only do genes and nurture often work hand in hand, there is a genetic basis to nurture. For a substantial fraction of the lifespan of a human being, it is nearly completely dependent on the parents for survival. Thus it should not be a surprise that would evolve to have their influence expanded through nurture," noted Augustine Kong, the first author of the paper. He also lamented that: "Having little interest in social science before, this research drastically changed my outlook, particularly regarding my appreciation for the importance of family."

"Understanding the function of the brain remains a great challenge for genetics and biology. The propensity to nurture is a defining trait for a person that is inseparable from the brain, and yet it is most difficult to measure or quantify. Identifying sequence variants that contribute to nurture can thus be an important step towards the understanding of the workings of the human brain and what makes human human," said Kari Stefansson, CEO of deCODE and a corresponding author of the paper. He also noted that "Despite the treasure trove of gene discoveries made though non-family-based association studies in the last decade or so, the results here are a reminder that, without family data, the story can often be, if not distorted, incomplete."

This study leverages deCODE's unique genetics resources in Iceland. In particular, over one-half of the nation is genotyped together with rich phenotypic/trait information. Most importantly, each of the genotyped persons has on average approximately one parent also genotyped, a feature that made the current study possible.

Explore further: Nature vs. nurture results in a draw, according to twins meta-study

More information: Augustine Kong et al. The nature of nurture: Effects of parental genotypes, Science (2018). DOI: 10.1126/science.aan6877

Related Stories

Nature vs. nurture results in a draw, according to twins meta-study

May 19, 2015
One of the great tussles of science – whether our health is governed by nature or nurture – has been settled, and it is effectively a draw.

Personality trait shares genetic link with depression

December 21, 2017
Scientists analysed the DNA of over 300,000 people and found many genes linked to neuroticism – characterised by feelings of anxiety, worry and guilt. The genes are also linked to depression. The findings help shed light ...

Explainer: What is heritability?

December 23, 2013
Schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder and autism have all had recent attention for being "genetically caused".

Got a picky eater? How 'nature and nurture' may be influencing eating behavior in young children

October 3, 2017
For most preschool-age children, picky eating is just a normal part of growing up. But for others, behaviors such as insisting on only eating their favorite food item—think chicken nuggets at every meal—or refusing to ...

Same genes drive maths and reading ability

July 8, 2014
Around half of the genes that influence how well a child can read also play a role in their mathematics ability, say scientists from UCL, the University of Oxford and King's College London who led a study into the genetic ...

Recommended for you

New algorithm could improve diagnosis of rare diseases

August 17, 2018
Today, diagnosing rare genetic diseases requires a slow process of educated guesswork. Gill Bejerano, Ph.D., associate professor of developmental biology and of computer science at Stanford, is working to speed it up.

Gene silencing critical for normal breast development

August 17, 2018
Researchers have discovered that normal breast development relies on a genetic 'brake', a protein complex that keeps swathes of genes silenced.

Officials remove special rules for gene therapy experiments

August 16, 2018
U.S. health officials are eliminating special regulations for gene therapy experiments, saying that what was once exotic science is quickly becoming an established form of medical care with no extraordinary risks.

Genetic link discovered between circadian rhythms and mood disorders

August 15, 2018
Circadian rhythms are regular 24-hour variations in behaviour and activity that control many aspects of our lives, from hormone levels to sleeping and eating habits.

Ovarian cancer genetics unravelled

August 14, 2018
Patterns of genetic mutation in ovarian cancer are helping make sense of the disease, and could be used to personalise treatment in future.

New genome-editing strategy could lead to therapeutics

August 14, 2018
Researchers at UMass Medical School have developed a genome-editing strategy to correct disease-causing DNA mutations in mouse models of human genetic diseases, according to research published in the Aug. 18 edition of Nature ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.