When scientists publish their research, it’s rare for them to write an accompanying FAQ that explains what they found and what it means. It’s especially rare for that FAQ to be three times longer than the research paper itself. But Daniel Benjamin and his colleagues felt the need to do so, because they work on a topic that is frequently and easily misunderstood: the genetics of education.
Over the past five years, Benjamin has been part of an international team of researchers identifying variations in the human genome that are associated with how many years of education people get. In 2013, after analyzing the DNA of 101,000 people, the team found just three of these genetic variants. In 2016, they identified 71 more after tripling the size of their study.
Now, after scanning the genomes of 1,100,000 people of European descent—one of the largest studies of this kind—they have a much bigger list of 1,271 education-associated genetic variants. The team—which includes Peter Visscher, David Cesarini, James Lee, Robbee Wedow, and Aysu Okbay—also identified hundreds of variants that are associated with math skills and performance on tests of mental abilities.
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