Reading ability of kids throughout school years can be predicted from their DNA alone, say scientists who have developed a new genetic scoring technique.
The scores could one day be used to identify and tackle reading difficulties early, rather than waiting until children develop these problems at school, researchers said.
The study shows that a genetic score comprising around 20,000 of DNA variants explains 5% of the differences between children’s reading performance.
Students with the highest and lowest genetic scores differed by a whole two years in their reading performance.
The findings from King’s College London in the UK highlight the potential of using genetic scores to predict strengths and weaknesses in children’s learning abilities.
The researchers calculated genetic scores (also called polygenic scores) for educational achievement in 5,825 individuals from twins study based on genetic variants identified to be important for educational attainment.
They then mapped these scores against reading ability between the ages of seven and 14. Genetic scores were found to explain up to 5% of the differences between children in their reading ability.
This association remained significant even after accounting for cognitive ability and family socio-economic status. The study authors note that although 5% may seem a relatively small amount, this is substantial compared to other results related to reading.
For example, gender differences have been found to explain less than 1% of the differences between children in reading ability.
“The value of polygenic scores is that they make it possible to predict genetic risk and resilience at the level of the individual. This is different to twin studies, which tell us about the overall genetic influence within a large population of people,” said Saskia Selzam, from King’s College London.
“These scores could enable research on resilience to developing reading difficulties and how children respond individually to different interventions,” Selzam added.
“We hope these findings will contribute to better policy decisions that recognise and respect genetically driven differences between children in their reading ability,” said Robert Plomin, from King’s College London.
The study was published in the journal Scientific Studies of Reading.
Follow @htlifeandstyle for more