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Scientists predict children's reading abilities using DNA variants

"The value of polygenic scores is that they make it possible to predict genetic risk and resilience at the level of the individual," said researcher Saskia Selzam.

By Brooks Hays
New research shows a child's reading abilities can be predicted by genetic markers. Photo by Valkr/Shutterstock
New research shows a child's reading abilities can be predicted by genetic markers. Photo by Valkr/Shutterstock

March 29 (UPI) -- DNA can predict a person's reading ability. Scientists at King's College London found DNA variants account for 5 percent of reading ability disparities among children.

Researchers identified gene variations associated with academic achievement. Next, scientists tallied a genetic score for each of the 5,825 individuals who participated in the Twins Early Development Study.

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After comparing the scores to the reading abilities of the study participants, kids ages seven to 14, researchers determined genetic traits account for 5 percent of reading ability disparities. Scientists accounted for mitigating factors like socioeconomic status and differences in general cognitive abilities.

Five percent seems like a small number, but previous studies have shown gender differences explain only 1 percent of the differences in reading abilities among children.

"The value of polygenic scores is that they make it possible to predict genetic risk and resilience at the level of the individual," Saskia Selzam, a psychologist at KCL, said in a news release. "This is different to twin studies, which tell us about the overall genetic influence within a large population of people."

Researchers hope their findings -- detailed in the journal Scientific Studies of Reading -- will ultimately help educators and parents develop individualized reading assistance for at-risk children.

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"We think this study provides an important starting point for exploring genetic differences in reading ability, using polygenic scoring," Selzam said. "For instance, these scores could enable research on resilience to developing reading difficulties and how children respond individually to different interventions."

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