Here’s some fascinating research that caught my eye. I explore these concepts within my TEDxExeter talk
Genomic sequencing information is revealing how a huge number of our behaviours are biologically ingrained. So complex traits, like intelligence, how long we might live, ideology even religiosity, contain genetic elements, usually 1000s or more genes working in tandem. The majority of these genes are involved in dictating how the neural circuitry is laid down in the womb or how the brain operates in later life.
This study, built on a wealth of data demonstrating the moderate to high heritability of psychiatric conditions and investigated their shared genetic etiology finding significant shared nosology.
This article, describes the heritability breakdown for intelligence and suggests further study investigating analysing rare variants, gene-gene interaction, and gene-environment interaction.
This study looked at genetic signatures of exceptional longevity in human centenarians and elucidated correlations between three signatures and three different life spans that was replicated in the combined replication sets.
This study, found that genetic loci associated with intelligence including genes involved in neurogenesis (the birth of nerve cells), myelination, synaptic function and regulation of the nervous system.
This study analysed the genetic influences on political ideologies analysing over 12, 000 twin pairs on 19 measures of political ideologies from five democracies indicating a high heritability to this complex trait.
This study conducted genomic analysis of family data including ~20,000 individuals in the Generation Scotland family cohort genotyped for ~700,000 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) to reveal genetic effects on intelligence and personality and education. There are many indicators of Socioeconomic Status, in this case it was inferred by education level and analysis ran with multiple methods to minimise contributing factors confusing the effects.
There’s also new technologies allowing us to peer into the brain as never before. The Developing Human Connectome Project, has imaged 100s of babies in the womb in addition to preterm and newborn babies. The anonymised data is then available to researchers across the world. It “aims to make major scientific progress by creating the first 4-dimensional connectome of early life. Our goal is to create a dynamic map of human brain connectivity from 20 to 44 weeks post-conceptional age, which will link together imaging, clinical, behavioural, and genetic information. This unique setting, with imaging and collateral data in an expandable open-source informatics structure, will permit wide use by the scientific community, and to undertake pioneer studies into normal and abnormal development by studying well-phenotyped and genotyped group of infants with specific genetic and environmental risks that could lead to Autistic Spectrum Disorder or Cerebral Palsy”.
Using this technology this study investigated emerging functional connectivity differences in newborn infants vulnerable to autism spectrum disorders and identified local functional activity as a potential biomarker for vulnerability for ASD.
In this study the authors attempted to unravel the links and interaction between neuropsychiatric disease’s polygenic determinants and how predispositions might be precipitated by environmental pressures, including adverse perinatal events. They investigated the extreme environmental stress of prematurity and neuroanatomic abnormality in individuals genetically vulnerable to psychiatric disorders, specifically autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and schizophrenia. They found genetic variants associated with neuropsychiatric disease increase vulnerability to abnormal lentiform development after perinatal stress and are associated with neuroanatomic changes in the perinatal period. They are following this study up to uncover if 1. That this is a normal finding in people who have high polygenic risk for psychiatric disease; or 2. These genes make you more vulnerable to the bad effects of perinatal stressors.
Moving from human babies to developed adults this study looked at how genes influence the connectome and comments “Collectively, these findings demonstrate a direct link between molecular function and the large-scale network organization of the human connectome and highlight a prominent role for genes in shaping the costly and functionally valuable connections between network hubs”.
Moving from the genes our parents gave us affecting brain and behaviour to how our ancestors experiences might also shape us. There’s interesting work looking at how events can leave their mark not only on an individuals brain, but that of their descendants also. For example, prisoners of war from the US Civil War, when they return home and have children, their sons have an 11% higher mortality rates by the age of 42, compared to descendants of other veterans.”
This study found that severe paternal hardship as a US Civil War prisoner of war led to high mortality among sons born after the war who survived to the age of 45. I explore the concept of trauma transmitting across generations in my next book on Collective Intelligence.
For a PDF of this information, with links and excerpts please contact me on hannahmcritchlowATgmail.com