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Genes account for about 80 percent of the variation in height and IQ, with both height and IQ correlating at .2. Therefore, genes must contribute largely to population variances in height. However, finding certain genes that contribute largely to these two traits is a problem, largely because both traits are polygenic in nature. Recent research has shown that most—or all–genes are height genes. If this is the case, are most—or all—genes IQ genes?
Height is around 80-90 percent heritable (Peeters et al, 2009). What this means is that the difference between the tallest and shortest 5 percent of the population is 11 inches, with 10 inches being accounted for by genes and 1 inch being accounted for by environment (Heine, 2017: 30). The gene that contributes the most to human height has been found to give 1/6th of an inch (Weedon et al, 2007). However, a recent meta-analysis shows that certain rare alleles give as much as 8/10ths of an inch (Hirschhorn, Deloukas, and Lettre, 2017). Furthermore, thousands of gene variants combined explain about 50 percent of human height (Yang et al, 2010). Yang et al (2010) also found 294,831 SNPs related to people’s height, which is—more or less—12 times the number of genes in our genome (Heine, 2017: 30; the number of genes in our genome is in the range of 19,000-20,000; Ezkurdia et al, 2014). Another meta-analysis found that 697 genetic variants explain about 20 percent of the genetic variation (Wood et al, 2014). Furthermore, according to geneticist David Goldstein, “most genes are height genes” (Goldstein, 2009).
Author of the book DNA is not Destiny and cultural and social psychologist Steven J. Heine writes:
“This means if you wanted to genetically engineer a designer baby who you would like to grow up to be tall, you would have to make almost 300,000 genetic alterations to the genome and you still would only be half way there. When the genetic evidence suggests that almost all genes are related to height, then in a way, we learn close to nothing about the genetic basis of height.” (Heine, 2017: 30)
Hirschhorn, Deloukas, and Lettre, (2017) found 83 rare and low-frequency genes that explain 1.7 percent of the adult heritability of height, along with newly identified and novel variants that explained 2.4 percent, “and all independent variants, known and novel together explained 27.4% of heritability. By comparison, the 697 known height SNPs explain 23.3% of height heritability in the same dataset (vs. 4.1% by the new height variants identified in this ExomeChip study)” (pg 7). So 27.4 percent of the variance is explained by known common variants and these new variants discovered.
Americans who drink more milk are, on average, half an inch taller than Americans who don’t recall drinking as much milk, even after controlling for race, income, and education (Wiley, 2005). This shows the importance milk has on skeletal muscle growth. This increase has even been noticed in Japan, where they increased their milk intake using school lunch programs (Takahasi, 1984), which increased their height by 4 inches (Funatogawa et al, 2009).
We also grow more in the spring and summer than in the fall and winter. This is due to ultraviolet radiation from the sun’s rays that synthesize some of the vitamin D we drink that is in the cow’s milk. Clearly, environmental factors (UV rays, milk consumption, overall nutrition, etc) all have a part to play in human height variation (Heine, 2017: 30). However, if all genes may be height genes, may all genes be IQ genes?
In regards to IQ, 3 genetic variants explain .3 IQ points (Rietvald et al, 2014):
After adjusting the estimated effect sizes of the SNPs (each R2 ∼ 0.0006) for the winner’s curse, we estimate each as R2 ∼ 0.0002 (SI Appendix), or in terms of coefficient magnitude, each additional reference allele for each SNP is associated with an ∼0.02 SD increase in cognitive performance [or 0.3 points on the typical intelligence quotient (IQ) scale].
This is the gene with the highest known effect that we currently know of. No “but undiscovered X means Y!!”, because science isn’t based on ‘what ifs’.
To predict one’s intelligence, you would need all genes on an SNP chip—which contains about 500,000 SNPs—to be able to predict half of the individual variation in IQ (Davies et al, 2011; Chabris et al, 2012; Heine, 2017: 175). Just as is the case with height, it seems that it’s possible that most—if not all—genes are IQ genes.
So, clearly, intelligence is highly polygenic, and, contrary to what Plomin says, it’s doubtful that we’ll be able to genotype one to guesstimate their intelligence level.
This is because you need more than 500,000 SNPs on a gene chip and even still, that would only explain half of the variance. So it’s reasonable to assume—as is the case with height—that all genes are IQ genes.
Chabris et al (2012) write:
One SNP, rs2760118 in SSADH (also known as ALDH5A1), exhibited a nominally significant association with g (t = 2.01, p = .04), but this association did not survive a Bonferroni correction. The mean g values (transformed to the IQ scale) by genotype for this SNP were 98.3, 99.7, and 100.6 for genotypes TT, TC, and CC respectively.
So it seems that all genes are height genes and all genes could possibly be IQ genes (that is, having a small effect). If most genes are height genes, and height is linked to IQ, then most genes should be IQ genes as well. Therefore, it is plausible that all genes are IQ genes.
Finally, I need to talk about the study that everyone is talking about, the study that found 52 new genes for intelligence (Sniekers et al, 2017). However, Razib Khan cautions: “My plain words are this: do not trust, and always verify“. A Google search for “gene found for” brings up 26,300,000 hits. As can be seen with the study that was published the other day on the supposed ‘new hominin’ found in Europe, science journalists use fancy and catchy headlines. “Genes for ___ and ___” is a bad way to put it—few traits are caused by a single gene, and most traits are highly polygenic, height and IQ included.
Do I think we’ll disentangle the intricacies involved with height and IQ? One day. But since at the moment, 500,000 SNPs need to be loaded on a gene chip to explain half of the variation in individual IQ.
Since most—or all—genes are related to height and the same may be so for IQ, we don’t really learn anything knowing the genes that control for these two traits. In regards to Heine’s (2017) example of genetic engineering 300,000 SNPs for height and you’d only be halfway there, I’d assume the same would be true for IQ. Both traits are highly polygenic, with thousands of genes controlling these traits. Genetic engineering a human for high intelligence or height looks to be a long shot—at least until far into the future.