February 18, 2013

Unraveling the genetic code behind IQ

From the Wall Street Journal:
A Genetic Code for Genius? 
In China, a research project aims to find the roots of intelligence in our DNA; searching for the supersmart
... In the spring of 2010, a theoretical physicist called Stephen Hsu from the University of Oregon visited BGI. Dr. Hsu was also interested in the genetics of cognitive ability, so the pair joined with other colleagues to launch the BGI intelligence project. 
One part of the plan called for shifting to saliva-based DNA samples obtained from mathematically gifted people, including Chinese who had participated in mathematics or science Olympiad training camps. 
Another involved the collection of DNA samples from high-IQ individuals from the U.S. and other countries, including those with extremely high SAT scores, and those with a doctorate in physics or math from an elite university. In addition, anyone could enroll via BGI's website if they met the criteria. 
The Shenzen government agreed to pay for half the project, and BGI said it would pitch in the other half, says Mr. Zhao. 
160 and over: IQ of high-intelligence individuals in the BGI study 
Most of the samples so far have come from outside of China. The main source is Dr. Plomin of King's College, who for his own research had collected DNA samples from about 1,600 individuals whose IQs were off the charts. Those samples were obtained through a U.S. project known as the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth, now in its fourth decade. 
Dr. Plomin tracked down 1,600 adults who had enrolled as kids in the U.S. project, now based at Vanderbilt University. Their DNA contributions make up the bulk of the BGI samples. 
Dr. Hsu embarked on his own marketing drive. When giving science talks at various institutions, including the California Institute of Technology, Taiwan's Academy of Science and Google, GOOG +0.64% he exhorted listeners to sign up for the study. 
BGI's website has so far attracted about 500 qualifying volunteers. 

This stuff's complicated, so I wouldn't be surprised if this winds up taking a lot longer than Mr. Zhao, a 20-year-old wunderkind, thinks it will take.

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

Schwong Project.

Will geneticistic competition from China force the West to face the reality of biological basis for the differences among humans?

China is officially national socialist now.


Anonymous said...

China is officially national socialist now.

China has basically been national socialist since its revolution.

The Soviet Union was basically national socialist from Stalin on out.

Anonymous said...

It scares me to think that all the high IQ individuals are listed somewhere...

If there's anything I've learned from history...you never want your name on any kind of list...especially marking you as 'intellectual'

Education Realist said...

Well my name is on the list somewhere. I hope it's not like Cambodia and the Killing Fields.

AnotherDad said...

It will definitely take longer than Mr.Zhao thinks, assuming he thinks they'll quickly isolate the critical "smart" gene variants.

While IQ is a useful concept, and all the things Jensen says about correlations, and “g” seem to be functionally true—all this stuff correlates, smart people are smart—that doesn’t mean it’s biologically or genetically one or even a few things. It just means that larger, faster, more efficient, more highly linked, better organized brains—whatever all the elements are—are smarter for doing most all the things we do.

Selection on having a “sharper” brain, as well as better impulse control, delayed gratification, higher cooperation, etc. has been the overwhelming driver of our rapid evolution since the Neolithic. Yeah, there are a few other non-brain things—adaptation to eating grains and to drinking milk. But the huge driver has been selection for success in managing new economic, technological, social and cultural environments—farming, towns, metal, crafts, trade, writing, cities, armies, empires, court, schooling … These changes have induced selection to rapidly hold of any lever that makes us smarter, and I suspect that’s a *lot* of levers. I believe there are hundreds, probably thousands of genes—not yet fixed (especially when we compare across all races)—that make smart people smart. And the interactions—which may drive a huge piece of this—will be confounding and confusing.

Anonymous said...

I'm continually shocked that things like this are being printed in the MSM. First the NYT admits that race exists, now the WSJ entertains the notion that intelligence is heritable.

Half heritable, of course, meaning there ARE environmental factors. But what rarely gets mentioned in regard to those factors is that they are all probably in play during the early years of a child's life. Once a kid gets into junior high, it's game over. And yet many of the Left's social engineering programs are targeted at teens.

Anonymous said...

This stuff's complicated, so I wouldn't be surprised if this winds up taking a lot longer than Mr. Zhao, a 20-year-old wunderkind, thinks it will take.

Here is how it will be: about 1/3 of all of our genes is expressed primarily in brain. Almost all of them will be found to affect IQ.

Anyone hoping for a short list of "IQ genes" is deluded.

John Derbyshire said...

This stuff's complicated, so I wouldn't be surprised if this winds up taking a lot longer than Mr. Zhao, a 20-year-old wunderkind, thinks it will take.

Ah, the audacity of youth. Twentysomething wunderkinder rush in where PC-whipped Westerners fear to tread.

I wouldn't be surprised either, Steve: but at least they're taking a shot at it.

The fools who rush in often get eaten by the dragon; but sometimes they come out bearing the gold.

Anonymous said...

"This stuff's complicated, so I wouldn't be surprised if this winds up taking a lot longer than Mr. Zhao, a 20-year-old wunderkind, thinks it will take."

I'm not so sure. I don't think evolution selects for IQ generally - only when it's necessary - and i think most of the time it selects slightly *against* IQ.


If so then there are likely to be genes from each time it was either necessary for an IQ jump...

e.g. climate change led to an expansion of the easy gathering zone out of the tropics, humans followed it and then some got stranded when the climate changed back and the easy gathering zone shrank back

...or times when it was expressly culturally selected for and these genes will have a large-ish effect in amongst a mass of genes with a minor negative effect.

Some of them will turn out to be simply larger skull genes (and indirectly height genes) imo.

Anonymous said...

And lets not forget a somewhat related program originating in the west, the search for the Einsteins of Africa. Any word yet on how thats progressing?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yeah it's going to take awhile, especially if you don't actually get the data. I sent them my saliva last April, and they haven't read it yet.

How I am going to read it once it's done is another problem. They'll send me the data, but that is like have a Mercedes with no key. (23 and me will not import and read data, for example. Wrong form somehow.)

Greg Cochran thinks looking at genetic load may be more valuable. That is, it's not so much having a few good genes as having a smaller percentage of slightly below-optimum ones. That's going to be tough to change with a flick of the wrist.

secede said...

"Google, GOOG +0.64%"

God forbid I don't know how Google's stock is doing.

NB: Google is still evil.

Anonymous said...

That China will surpass the west - and overhaul it massively, is pretty much baked into the cake now.
- The fact that are unabashedly doing things such as (which, incidentally, is exactly the right course of action to take), more or less guarantees their truimph.
Take this tory at the totemic level, as a kind of omen from the gods - in the same way that lightening struck the Vatican after Pope Benedict announced his resignation.

Glossy said...

"BGI's website has so far attracted about 500 qualifying volunteers."

I'm one of those. The cut-off for people volunteering through the BGI web site was 3 SDs above the mean (145 IQ), not 160 IQ. All I had to do was scan in my GRE and MAT results, spit into a cup, and answer a few personal questions (ancestry, eye color, educational attainment, height too I think). From what I understand, they're doing whole-genome sequencing. We're supposed to get individual results this winter. 3 GB of data, I think. No idea when any overall conclusions will be available.

"...you never want your name on any kind of list..."

There are several ways of looking at this. I'm childless (surprise, surprise). Who knows, maybe long after I'm dead someone will want to clone me from that 3 GB file they're going to keep on me. Or they could use a little part of the code (of me, really) to build something a little shinier.

Steve Hsu has mentioned the possibility of drugs being created in the future that would mimic the effect of the genes in question.

"I sent them my saliva last April, and they haven't read it yet."

Mr Chang stated in the comments at Steve Hsu's blog that we should expect an e-mail this coming week.

Truth said...

Why don't they just DNA test Jody and Whiskey, and find out which compounds neither of them possess?

Anonymous said...

"Greg Cochran thinks looking at genetic load may be more valuable."

I think it's a bit of both with a reduction in genetic load having lots of beneficial effects including IQ.

International Zhu said...

Come what may of his project, this'll bea great way for young Mr. Zhao to meet girls that like his type.

nooffensebut said...

"Anyone hoping for a short list of 'IQ genes' is deluded."

One should expect a short list in early studies at best, and anyone expecting a short list of legitimate IQ variants to be useless is deluded. Our short list of BMI alleles is about as useful as knowing whether one's parents are fat.

Anonymous said...

anyone expecting a short list of legitimate IQ variants to be useless is deluded.

Accounting for 1% of the variation is not exactly useful.

nooffensebut said...

"Accounting for 1% of the variation is not exactly useful."

29 BMI SNPs account for 2-4% of the variability but still match parental family history in usefulness. This might be because the likelihood of having the SNPs actually increases the likelihood of having other contributing SNPs. In fact, Ehret et al suggested that some missing heritability is within already discovered loci, in which linkage disequilibrium is incomplete.

Anonymous said...

If one of the lowest hanging fruits of IQ research does turn out to be simple skull/brain size then i have mental images of 7' genetically engineered Chinese with giant heads supported by neck-braces.

Micha Elyi said...

Your HTML cannot be accepted: Tag is not allowed: BLOCKQUOTE

<blockquote>
I believe there are hundreds, probably thousands of genes—not yet fixed (especially when we compare across all races)—that make smart people smart.
--AnotherDad
</blockquote>

Seems to me that a statistician could figure out the upper bound for the number of genes that must be involved, knowing the population size and distribution of g. Of course a few simplifying assumptions would be required such as supposing that only genes determine intelligence and the effect of each gene is equally weighted.

Anonymous said...

Back in the mid-80's , an associate doing research in China told me about prominent Chinese
psychologists who openly discussed the importance they perceived in the works of Arthur Jensen and Hans Eysenck. It's 2013 and we haven't gotten that far here, yet.

Hugh said...

Surely they'll also need 100IQ and 75IQ people's genetic material as well so as to identify the genes that make people bright.

Anonymous said...

"Surely they'll also need 100IQ and 75IQ people's genetic material as well so as to identify the genes that make people bright."

doh!

.
If large skulls / brain size was the original way to increase IQ supplanted later by efficiency improvements then they ought to have measured all the skull sizes as well and focused a lot of attention on the small skulled people with high IQs.

Dr Van Nostrand said...

There was a line in that awful awful move The Social Network that was rather amazing.Mark Zuckerberg mentioned to his girlfriend that there are many more people in China with genius level IQs than the entire population of U.S.

That would mean that that more than a third of what is essentially a peasant country has genius level IQs.

It is a type of equivalent of intellectual jock sniffing of the Chinese people ,which leads to such fantastic assertions, that is just sad.

It should be noted that both the author and writer of the social network-the awful ,bloody awful Ben Mezrich and annoying,flippant but smart(but not that smart) Aaron Sorkin are both Harvard graduates making a movie about a Harvard dropout who in turn idolizes China!

Anonymous said...

Rather than find out about intelligence, I would really be interested in the mojo possessed by people like 20 year old wunderkind Mr. Zhao who are able to undertake/initiate a project this complex at 20.

Anonymous said...

It would be fun to know why some people are super smart, but it's probably more useful to figure out why so many people are below an IQ of 100 and how to bring up the smarts of the dumbest. After all, does the world really need any more super-smart people? With a world population at 7 billion, we have never had so many geniuses living at one time. Yet what is the consequence? Is the life span of man increasing? Has cancer been cured? Are we now capable of interstellar travel or suspended animation? Seems like all of today's geniuses are simply joining feelers together in a great internet ant colony and delivering a bunch of crap programming and engineering to keep us distracted and under surveillance. Where is the evidence for cognitive singularities like Bach, Einstein, Galileo, Fermi, Da Vinci, Twain, and Jefferson. We're going through an intellectual and cultural maunder minimum.

Panda@War said...

Largely agreed with Another Dad of 2/18/13, 2:25 AM.

Intuitively I suspect that

1. there’re perhaps many genes at work at the same time, and it could be very “tricky” to separate them with reasonablely acceptable assumptions at this stage when there’re no fundamental breakthroughs, at least not in the public domain, in Maths & other basic sciences, in order to provide a much more accurate analytical framework & tools than the current sorry state of “Casino Statistics”.

2. while the team of Mr. Zhao are aiming at individual genes, perhaps what they eventually end up with would not, or not only, be genes, but also, or more likely, only be the blackbox result of “butterfly effects” of those genes.

3. the underlying complex mechanism of how these (unknown)genes interact amongst them, and under what conditions/assumptions, appear to me even more important than genes themselves which I think could be just simple carriers.

4. at then end of the day whatever the blackbox result would be, it will take a world-class maestro of a full league beyond Einstein to unlock , at least a bit towards the right direction, what’s in it.

BTW, I've developed some proprietary algorisms myself during my career(I am in hedge fund biz). I wish I could have a chance to give it a try on any of these 3GB someday … ^-^

Anonymous said...

But the huge driver has been selection for success in managing new economic, technological, social and cultural environments—farming, towns, metal, crafts, trade, writing, cities, armies, empires, court, schooling …

That's very true.

On the other hand, being smart would also let us come up with better ways to mesh competitiveness with a hunter-gatherer skill set.

So some personality and other traits might show less change since the neolithic in smart populations (e.g. smart people have no need for mass agriculturalist conformity, because they can make the existing personality drives do what they want by changing the input stimulus).

Smarter people are better at remaking the world to fit themselves.