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Medicine Science

Researchers Try To Identify the Intelligence Gene 254

Posted by samzenpus
from the root-of-all-smarts dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The world's largest brain study to date, with a team of more than 200 scientists from 100 institutions worldwide collaborated to map the human genes that boost or sabotage the brain's resistance to a variety of mental illnesses and Alzheimer's disease. The study also uncovered new genes that may explain individual differences in brain size and intelligence. From the article: 'Following a brain study on an unprecedented scale, an international collaboration has now managed to tease out a single gene that does have a measurable effect on intelligence. But the effect – although measurable – is small: the gene alters IQ by just 1.29 points. According to some researchers, that essentially proves that intelligence relies on the action of a multitude of genes after all.'"
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Researchers Try To Identify the Intelligence Gene

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  • by crazyjj (2598719) * on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @09:34AM (#39709525)

    My intelligence is about all I have going for me. I know it's selfish, but I shudder to think of living in a world where *everyone* is smart by default. I didn't get kicked around all those years by the jocks just to settle for being an average intellect.

    Of course, I guess genetic engineering will probably turn everyone into super athletes too. But athletic prowess is a short-term thing anyway. Intellect is supposed to be for the long-term. But when/if the engineering starts, intellects (like athletes) will always be looking over their shoulders at their better engineered youngers gaining on them.

    • by Chrisq (894406)

      My intelligence is about all I have going for me. I know it's selfish, but I shudder to think of living in a world where *everyone* is smart by default. I didn't get kicked around all those years by the jocks just to settle for being an average intellect.

      Of course, I guess genetic engineering will probably turn everyone into super athletes too. But athletic prowess is a short-term thing anyway. Intellect is supposed to be for the long-term. But when/if the engineering starts, intellects (like athletes) will always be looking over their shoulders at their better engineered youngers gaining on them.

      Who knows, maybe genetic engineering will make athletic ability long term too. You won't get old, just obsolete.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      GATTACA is coming http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gattaca

    • by RivenAleem (1590553) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @11:04AM (#39710597)

      We need to, while we're at it, identify a gene that predisposes people to keep off my lawn.

    • My intelligence is about all I have going for me. I know it's selfish, but I shudder to think of living in a world where *everyone* is smart by default. I didn't get kicked around all those years by the jocks just to settle for being an average intellect.

      I wouldn't worry too much. If experience is any guide, any genes involved with intelligence must be recessive.

    • by poity (465672) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @11:40AM (#39711017)

      IQ is overrated. We'd all be better off with a anti-procrastination or anti-irrational-fear gene

    • Well how much is due to environment. Genes give you the positional attributes, however dealing with the environment has larger results. I know people who were actually very intelligent when they were young, but their environment wasn't very nurturing, so they never really used their brains, and now are living a lower class life, because they are not smart enough to get out. I have seen other people who were note very intelligent as kids, however they were in a supportive environment, they grew up and go

    • So basically (Score:4, Insightful)

      by arcite (661011) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @12:21PM (#39711607)
      You're hinging your life-success not on how smart you are, but how stupid people are around you. That isn't a good way to go through life. Success comes from enlightening everyone, including yourself and most especially others. Knowledge begets more knowledge. A truly intelligent person would realize that.
      • by P-niiice (1703362)
        People don't want to be enlightened(anymore). they want to be pandered to. They want diamond studs that they can attach to their trucknuts that they can attach to their truck. That will get you rich, not some intellectual revelation.
        Any interest who a revelation has the merest negative effect on will pay, pay, pay and have your information buried, discredited, and your credibility destroyed if they please. Also, I own the truck nuts jewelry patent.
    • by TheSync (5291)

      My intelligence is about all I have going for me. I know it's selfish, but I shudder to think of living in a world where *everyone* is smart by default.

      Bad news, there are likely tens of millions of Chinese who have a higher IQ than you who are coming on to the world market...

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Yes, but every blessing has a price. The price for intelligence is annoyance at those with less intelligence. And if those dumb jocks had any brains they wouldn't be bullying anyone. Only an idiot bullies people.

      But I have to tell you, I don't think I'm as smart as I was thirty years ago, but I'm in a little better shape physically.

    • I don't think you're parsing cause and effect very well. One, the 'dumb jock' stereotype only exists in the first place because of a frustration with intellectual inferiority. Remove that and they have no incentive to stuff you into lockers: they'd be fundamentally different people after such tinkering. Two, intelligence is heavily an acquired skill anyway; people who grow up outside of an effective social circle will always be better at problem-solving because their situation has forced them to learn how t

    • >Intellect is supposed to be for the long-term
      As long as you do not get some degenerative disease that lowers your brain function....Alzheimers...
      I agree with you, but also think that a man's journey includes all 3 planes of existence, the physical, mental, and spiritual...
      workout, do rubiks cube, and do a good deed a day, and you should be fine.... ; )

  • by PvtVoid (1252388) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @09:37AM (#39709561)
    Oh, for crying out loud. IQ tests must have a bigger measurement error than plus or minus 2, which means that the 1.29-point alteration is smaller than the measurement error. I.e., no effect.
    • by Chrisq (894406)

      Oh, for crying out loud. IQ tests must have a bigger measurement error than plus or minus 2, which means that the 1.29-point alteration is smaller than the measurement error. I.e., no effect.

      You are thinking about the accuracy of an individual measurement, when averaging large numbers with and without the gene you can get a much greater level of accuracy.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by weakref (2554172)
        I don't think it's applicable. After all we don't even know what we are measuring... It's a very rough estimation of ability to answer certain kind of questions.
        • by Chrisq (894406)

          I don't think it's applicable. After all we don't even know what we are measuring... It's a very rough estimation of ability to answer certain kind of questions.

          That is a very good point, but what we can say is that if we average a large number of people we will get a very accurate measurement on how the gene correlates with ability to answer those questions. Of course there is not necessarily a causal effect, there could be some other gene that is responsible that happens to occur in similar groups - like blue eyes and blond hair having a correlation but neither being the cause of the other.

      • by PvtVoid (1252388) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @09:59AM (#39709805)

        You are thinking about the accuracy of an individual measurement, when averaging large numbers with and without the gene you can get a much greater level of accuracy.

        Precision is not accuracy. The standard deviation on IQ tests [wikipedia.org] is about three points, but that does not mean that by averaging 1,000,000 IQs you can detect effects as small as 0.03 points -- the test is fundamentally incapable of measuring effects that small in the first place.

        If your measurement is bad in the first place, averaging large numbers of measurements accomplishes nothing except giving you a false sense of accuracy. A huge pile of shit statistics is still shit.

        • by PvtVoid (1252388)
          Whoops. Typo there. For a standard deviation of 3 for one measurement, Gaussian statistics will give you a standard deviation of 0.03 for 10,000 measurements, and 0.003 for 1,000,000 measurements.
        • by Chrisq (894406)

          You are thinking about the accuracy of an individual measurement, when averaging large numbers with and without the gene you can get a much greater level of accuracy.

          Precision is not accuracy. The standard deviation on IQ tests [wikipedia.org] is about three points, but that does not mean that by averaging 1,000,000 IQs you can detect effects as small as 0.03 points -- the test is fundamentally incapable of measuring effects that small in the first place. If your measurement is bad in the first place, averaging large numbers of measurements accomplishes nothing except giving you a false sense of accuracy. A huge pile of shit statistics is still shit.

          No, see Margin of error [wikipedia.org]

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by PvtVoid (1252388)

            No, see Margin of error [wikipedia.org]

            Repeat after me: only for Gaussian distributions, only for Gaussian distributions, only for Gaussian distributions. Any measurement can be assigned a standard deviation, but that doesn't make it Gaussian.

            If the errors are not Gaussian, the situation is completely different. For example, if the variation in individual measurements follows a flat distribution instead of a Gaussian distribution, then averaging large numbers of measurements accomplishes exactly nothing. For any measurement, if your margin of

            • by Hatta (162192) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @11:52AM (#39711181) Journal

              IQs are gaussian by definition. The question isn't whether the statistics are valid here. The question is whether they're biologically meaningful.

              • by PvtVoid (1252388)

                IQs are gaussian by definition. The question isn't whether the statistics are valid here. The question is whether they're biologically meaningful.

                The distribution of IQs across a population is Gaussian. The error in any individual IQ measurement is highly unlikely to be Gaussian below a certain level of accuracy. Completely different things.

                But I don't think I disagree with your conclusion: just because somebody quotes a small P-value doesn't mean that the effect is real.

              • Actually, IQs aren't exactly gaussian, both the low and high ends are slightly overrepresented compared to a gaussian.
    • Please take a class in statistics and get back to us about your comment.

  • by netwarerip (2221204) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @09:41AM (#39709599)

    'According to some researchers, that essentially proves that intelligence relies on the action of a multitude of genes after all.'"

    Apparently, those researchers don't have that gene.

    • by N0Man74 (1620447) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @10:07AM (#39709891)

      If only humans had simpler and less powerful brains. Then we might be able to figure out how they work!

      Oh... wait....

    • I've always thought that intelligence was the result of an optimized system. Sure, any of a thousand genes can decrease intelligence- they decrease optimization. If all of the thousands of genes are set right, you get a system working properly, and hopefully high intelligence.

      To look for a single gene that controls intelligence is like looking for the single part that solves performance issues in all computers everywhere.

      Put another way, what's the one gene that controlls health? Hey look, a gene that cau

  • by fche (36607)

    But but but, I've been told by my superiors that intelligence is a social construct devised by the white man to keep down the proletariat, and has no biological basis whatsoever.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Chrisq (894406)

      But but but, I've been told by my superiors that intelligence is a social construct devised by the white man to keep down the proletariat, and has no biological basis whatsoever.

      Don't worry, they just won't be allowed to publish the correlation with racial groups. I think most researchers got the message after the DNA pioneer James Watson had to retire [nytimes.com] after suggesting a correlation . Of course even if there is a correlation that is no excuse to treat individuals differently because of their racial group, that would be like saying that a white guy could not play basketball because his race is not so good at it.

      • by KiloByte (825081)

        I wonder how anyone can claim there is NO correlation.

        Just try this simulation: take a linear graph, assign every node a vector of numeric attributes (all zeros initially). In every step, for all nodes, all attributes, randomly either add or subtract a random value from the attribute or go halfway towards the value of a neighbour node. Repeat for a crapload of generations.

        Now name one of the attributes "skin colour", another "strength", another "intelligence", etc. We know for sure there's no causation.

      • Re:how can this be (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Chris Burke (6130) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @10:50AM (#39710429) Homepage

        I think most researchers got the message after the DNA pioneer James Watson had to retire after suggesting a correlation

        Since he had no scientific basis for that "correlation" whatsoever and was instead basing it on his personal interactions with black employees... yeah, the DNA "pioneer" who stole the whole idea from Rosalind Franklin must've forgot that the personal anecdotes of a racist are not exactly Nobel-worthy scientific observations. Is that a bad message for researchers?

        Meanwhile, I'm interested to see how many will jump to using a ~1 point effect on IQ to justify statements like Watson's despite there not being any connection, and being less than what you'll get from a solid day of test preparation tutoring.

        Just realize that if as they say there are many genetic factors that affect intelligence, it is unlikely that there are enough such factors isolated in certain populations to make a significant difference -- as in enough that Watson and others' casual observations were borne out in fact.

        • Since he had no scientific basis for that "correlation" whatsoever and was instead basing it on his personal interactions with black employees...

          I beg to differ. [gnxp.com]

          • by Chris Burke (6130)

            Watson's claim was that intelligence testing shows lower intelligence scores in Africa than Europe. Is this or is this not true?

            No, idiot, the claim was that IQs are lower in Africa than Europe and that this is due to genetics and thus an unalterable biological fact that social policies cannot address.

            The best part is quoting studies of African IQ that list all the social factors in play, almost any one of which has a greater known effect than any known genetic effect which is not a disability. Almost as great was comparing to 1950s african americans -- yeah, what social issues could have possibly affected that?! It must be geneti

    • Of course intelligence has a biological basis, it's just never been shown that genetics has a stronger effect than environment. Also, there is no identified correlation with this gene and skin colour.

      • Of course intelligence has a biological basis, it's just never been shown that genetics has a stronger effect than environment.

        Wrong. [nature.com]

         

        • Honestly, that particular study does not convince me; do you have any others? All of the populations used in that one were from regions with very low ethnic diversity, in a society and time that didn't have very high class mobility. There are so many confounding factors that I'm actually compelled to pull out "correlation != causation" in this case.
      • by TheSync (5291)

        Of course intelligence has a biological basis, it's just never been shown that genetics has a stronger effect than environment

        Look at the science [wikipedia.org]. A large number of studies have shown heritability of IQ to be between 0.7 and 0.8 in adults. The genetics has a stronger effect on IQ than environment.

        • Look at the science [wikipedia.org]. A large number of studies have shown heritability of IQ to be between 0.7 and 0.8 in adults.

          You missed the most important part of that sentence: in the United States.

          See this note on the same page:

          A common error is to assume that a heritability figure is necessarily unchangeable. The value of heritability can change if the impact of environment (or of genes) in the population is substantially altered. If the environmental variation encountered by different individuals increases, then the heritability figure would decrease. On the other hand, if everyone had the same environment, then heritability would be 100%. The population in developing nations often has more diverse environments than in developed nations. This would mean that heritability figures would be lower in developing nations. Another example is phenylketonuria which previously caused mental retardation for everyone who had this genetic disorder and thus had a heritability of 100%. Today, this can be prevented by following a modified diet, resulting in a lowered heritability.

          The US has a relatively level playing field which emphasises genetic effects on intelligence. In general (i.e. worldwide) it has not been shown that genetics have a stronger influence on intelligence than environment.

        • (Remember, kids: you're not a bioinformatician unless you spend millions of dollars making perfectly sound inferences based from unverified premises using a score that no one understands.)

    • What you're implying is wrong in so many ways, I don't know where to start. But how about this: the gene is more prevalent in blacks than whites [discovermagazine.com]. Mod parent racist.

      • by fche (36607)

        "the gene is more prevalent in blacks than whites"

        Could you spell out your perceived contradiction?

        • by l00sr (266426)

          You are insinuating that the inferior intelligence of black people leads to inequities that they unfairly blame on whites, since the reason is ultimately due to their inferior genes, as the study suggests. This is easily the most offensive comment I've seen on /. in a while, I'm appalled that it was modded +3 Funny, and it's premise is flawed in multiple ways, not the least of which being that, if anything, the study only provides evidence for the argument that blacks are smarter than whites and not the ot

          • by fche (36607)

            "it's premise is flawed in multiple ways, not the least of which being that, if anything, the study only provides evidence for the argument that blacks are smarter than whites and not the other way around."

            Wait, are you saying that the study is flawed because it implies blacks are smarter than whites, and this contradicts (your view of) reality?
            Who's the racist one again?

  • So I can go on disability. That would give me more time to post on Slashdot! =)
  • Proof (Score:5, Insightful)

    by StripedCow (776465) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @09:50AM (#39709701)

    According to some researchers, that essentially proves

    According to some other researchers, the verb "prove" has lost its meaning.

  • . . . right after they identify the meaning of "intelligence."

  • For the lucky few... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MikhailValerie (2036212) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @09:52AM (#39709725)

    I noticed that it gets even better, if you are a child of these lucky few:

    "When people inherit C-variants from both parents they enjoy double the effect: a rise in IQ of about 2.6."

    On another note, I noticed the gene in question HMGA2 was previously linked to a person's height [newscientist.com]. I wonder if an extension of this study would consider any possible correlation between height and intelligence in regards to variations in this gene.

    - - -

    MV

  • much like the crime gene, and the gay gene, is probably just another invention to drum up research funding. the modern equivalent of "glands" and "humours," a gene has come only to represent our sadly pedestrian understanding of the genetic sciences.

  • by dryriver (1010635) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @10:06AM (#39709877)
    Imagine a pill you swallow in the morning with your breakfast, that stimulates a few genes and gives you a 10 - 20 Pt IQ-boost for the rest of the day, so you are extra sharp in your work, in meetings & presentations, in an examination, and so on... Or, if you were born IQ challenged (quite a number of people are in every society), a long-term medical treatment that, over the years, boosts your IQ to average level, or perhaps to even above-average level... A medical cure for being under-powered in the brain department, in other words. That could really change some people's changes in life. Being of below-average intelligence is a handicap that lasts a lifetime and often results in low personal-income, and being sidelined/rejected/excluded by the smart people.
    • by Hentes (2461350)

      It already exists and called learning.

    • by RCC42 (1457439)

      Imagine a pill you swallow in the morning with your breakfast, that stimulates a few genes and gives you a 10 - 20 Pt IQ-boost for the rest of the day, so you are extra sharp in your work, in meetings & presentations, in an examination, and so on... Or, if you were born IQ challenged (quite a number of people are in every society), a long-term medical treatment that, over the years, boosts your IQ to average level, or perhaps to even above-average level... A medical cure for being under-powered in the brain department, in other words. That could really change some people's changes in life. Being of below-average intelligence is a handicap that lasts a lifetime and often results in low personal-income, and being sidelined/rejected/excluded by the smart people.

      The obvious problem is when you take that same principle and apply it to 'sub normal', normal and advanced people equally. If they all have 80, 100, and 120 IQ respectively prior to treatment then afterwards they would have 100, 120, 140 IQ respectively. Yes they would all be improved but the difference remains. Of course I want to point out that IQ scores are a relative thing anyway, and there is no 'objective' IQ value. The average IQ will always be 100, it's just measured based on the rest of the pop

    • Interestingly, covered in a short story and novel by Francis Keyes. A mentally handicapped man is operated on, and becomes a genius, but loses the intelligence gained and becomes worse than he was.

      Flowers for Algernon" [wikipedia.org]
      Very interesting but sad story.

    • I don't have to imagine anything. People can already take entheogens (psychedelics (hallucinogens)) every day with no ill effect.
    • ... and when it wears off you enjoying your evening swilling beer and watching football

  • Did they limit their study to only "normal" circulating variants you'd find in a population of typical, healthy subjects? Or was any consideration given to very rare variants?
    http://jmg.highwire.org/content/18/6/410.full.pdf [highwire.org]
    http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(70)91848-9/abstract [thelancet.com]

  • Maths/science doesnt lie, it just decieves people with unstated and misleading assumptions

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nature_versus_nurture [wikipedia.org]

  • Suppose it's discovered that optimizing the genes for athleticism turns off genes for intelligence? And vice-versa?

    Then it's one or the other, or mediocrity.

  • by djKing (1970) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @10:20AM (#39710031) Homepage Journal

    I've been told, by a bio ethicist, that there at six genes that influence height. So the idea that's there's just one gene for IQ seems odd.

    • by hackula (2596247)
      At least 6. And that is completely disregarding the #1 leading factor in height and all other traits: environment. The classic case is seen with genetically identical trees growing on the slope of a mountain. They all have the same genes but the ones at the top have ~half the height as the ones at the bottom due to changes in air density.
    • And when you tweek with one of the genes, leaving the other 5 alone, you get Giraffes.

  • According to some researchers, that essentially proves that intelligence relies on the action of a multitude of genes after all

    What it proves is that IQ is not affected by one gene. It could be that intelligence is unaffected by genes, but is a result of training. Also, IQ is a bad measurement of intelligence.

    • by TheSync (5291)

      It could be that intelligence is unaffected by genes

      A large number of studies have found the heritability of IQ [wikipedia.org] to be between 0.7 and 0.8 in adults.

  • Let's all make sure that all kids will have genotype close to a local maximum of intelligence, even if it cuts off the capability to approach global maximum for all future generations!

    But what am I complaining about? US society, the only people stupid enough to do anything like that, is already taken over by psychopaths, it's like worrying about European royal families inbreeding.

  • ... that essentially proves that intelligence relies on the action of a multitude of factors after all.

  • Our society is already full of smart people that are bored doing menial tasks, or worse, think that the menial tasks are beneath them. I'm supposedly an intelligent person, but I was bored out of my mind when I did inside sales. What about the service industry or factory work? Isolating the factors of intelligence is all good and well, but beyond that we need to leave it alone. No gene therapy to make average intelligence people smarter. No Flowers for Algernon.
  • The researchers trying to identify what genes affect intelligence should first come up with an undeniable definition of the term. I personally know of someone who does not have a lot of "book learning" (and probably would not do well in school) but he had a lot of "common sense". At the same time, there are brilliant scientists out there that are clueless about social interactions. You can be brilliant in one area and a complete idiot in another area. Are these people geniuses or idiots (or both).

  • by MetricT (128876) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @12:38PM (#39711855) Homepage

    According to three separate tests I have an IQ of 160, and I've spent most of my career working in academia. And believe me, intelligence is overrated. "Average" people are often a great deal smarter than they're given credit for.

    And us "smart" guys can be dumber than a bag of hammers more often than we'd like to admit. The smarter you are, the more likely you are to be a victim of Dunning-Krueger syndrome. In academia, "I have a Ph.D." often translates into "I know everything about everything", usually with comic or tragic outcomes.

    What I have seen, both in my personal and professional lives, that would make far more impact for society is finding the genes for discipline, for rationality, for work ethic, for compassion to others. Solve those, and you'll improve our society far more than trying to create a planet of Einstein's.

  • Perhaps I'm only showing a lack of understanding by saying this, but as I recall from biology class, any trait that operates as a matter of degrees essentially has to have multiple genes to make it so.

    Take skin color, for example. If it was a literally "black-or-white" matter (notwithstanding the politics of it, of course...), it would have one gene that decides the color of a person (dark or light, with nothing in-between), and each option would be either dominant or recessive. Since there are many, many

  • we're looking for a gene that 'causes' intelligence — while we forget it is we ourselves who actually *think* — and as such, we can know the processes of intelligence from the inside, and with understanding.

    perhaps it is not so much a 'gene that causes intelligence' — so much as an *attitude* that yields results. a critical attitude closes us off from intelligence, while being open/transparent to the perceptions available yields its secrets — the whispers of knowledge from nature are

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