Queensland scientists have helped identify 74 genes that could play a role in how much education a person completes, a global study has found.

The study, conducted by the Social Science Genetic Association Consortium, analysed the genetic information from 300,000 people mostly across Europe, USA and Australia who had participated in previous studies where their education had been recorded.
UQ Queensland Brain Institute’s Professor Peter Visscher was involved in the study and said the 74 genes were a “very tiny fraction” of the estimated 20 per cent of DNA variants associated with levels of education.

“Educational attainment is a complex phenomenon, and mostly influenced by social and other environmental factors, but we knew that genes play a role too,” he said.

“From past twin and family studies it is estimated that about 20 to 40 per cent of individual differences between people in educational attainment is due to (largely unknown) genetic factors.”

Professor Visscher said the research was conducted to contribute to broader medical research.

“Your level of education determines so many other aspects of how your life unfolds,” he said.

“There is a widely-accepted relationship between educational attainment and health outcomes, but we don’t fully understand its causes.”

Professor Visscher said the identified genes associated with education achievement could affect biological factors and psychological characteristics, which could influence the amount of education a person completed.

“On average, genes that increase educational attainment are associated with a decrease risk in dementia and neuroticism but an increased risk in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder,” he said.

“Therefore the research can generate new candidate genes for these outcomes.

“It is a rich vein of material which, when applied responsibly, adds to our understanding of the human condition.”