Study offers first genetic analysis of people with extremely high intelligence

Aug 10, 2015

Photo courtesy of WonderHowTo

By King’s College London

The first ever genetic analysis of people with extremely high intelligence has revealed small but important genetic differences between some of the brightest people in the United States and the general population.

Published today in Molecular Psychiatry, the King’s College London study selected 1,400 high- individuals from the Duke University Talent Identification Program. Representing the top 0.03 per cent of the ‘intelligence distribution’, these individuals have an IQ of 170 or more – substantially higher than that of Nobel Prize winners, who have an average IQ of around 145.

Genetic research on intelligence consistently indicates that around half of the differences between people can be explained by genetic factors. This study’s unique design, which focused on the positive end of the intelligence distribution and compared genotyping data against more than 3,000 people from the , greatly enhanced the study’s power to detect genes responsible for the heritability of intelligence.

Researchers analysed (SNPs), which are DNA differences (polymorphisms) between individuals in the 3 billion nucleotide base pairs of DNA – steps in the spiral staircase of the double helix of DNA that make up the human genome. Each SNP represents a difference in a single nucleotide base pair, and these SNPs account for inherited differences between people, including intelligence. The study focused, for the first time, on rare, functional SNPs – rare because previous research had only considered common SNPs and functional because these are SNPs that are likely to cause differences in the creation of proteins.


Read the full article by clicking the name of the source below.

13 comments on “Study offers first genetic analysis of people with extremely high intelligence

  • It has been known for decades, that exceptional intelligence runs in some families, but that part appears to be genetic, and part cultural in their traditions of child nurture.

    It is useful to see work on evidence based explanations of this.



    Report abuse

  • Alan4D. Would the expression, “DNA is the fingerprint of evolution.” be true?

    Given that every atom in the DNA is as a result of some past event, recent or distant, then the construct of the DNA is as a result of mutations recorded over time. If we did a Mendel with Homo Sapiens, and cross bred intelligent people over time, would this DNA trait be passed on, and eventually become imbedded in our DNA?

    Just my mind running away on a tangent.



    Report abuse

  • David R Allen
    Aug 11, 2015 at 4:58 am

    Alan4D. Would the expression, “DNA is the fingerprint of evolution.” be true?

    As I read the article, it is saying that there are combinations of genetic factors which up-rate or down-grade intelligence, so it is the overall mix which leads to the expression of high intelligence in individuals.

    When it comes to populations, survival can come down to cultural effects – where the intelligent are selected and pushed into high-risk jobs such as fighter pilots, or where anti-intellectual retard cultures, like that of Pol Pot, abuse the intelligent individuals in their communities.
    In many ancient cultures skilled craftsmen, artists and designers (or more recently rocket scientists etc.), were seized and valued by invading armies, where lesser individuals were simply killed.



    Report abuse

  • Ants have highly specialised individuals which means soldier ants need others to chew their food for them.

    In many ancient cultures skilled craftsmen, artists and designers (or
    more recently rocket scientists etc.), were seized and valued by
    invading armies, where lesser individuals were simply killed.

    Don’t give the Tories any more fuel…..



    Report abuse

  • The Best and the Brightest
    by David Halberstam
    “David Halberstam’s masterpiece, the defining history of the making of the Vietnam tragedy. Using portraits of America’s flawed policy makers & accounts of the forces that drove them,” (book description)

    The title refers to the brain trust that Kennedy and Johnson chose to advise and direct the high-level policies of their administrations. The book tells a cautionary tale that numbers on IQ tests, updated to include analysis of DNA, may not predict the measure of sound judgement and beneficial outcomes.

    Often overlooked in the story of “progress’ are the millions of micro achievements accomplished by people in the modest intelligence range. Factory or office workers in the trenches, for example, continuously “tweek” machinery, computer hardware and software, and procedures that collectively contribute to large productivity gains. Their peculiar genius for solving small[er] contingent technical problems would never show up in an IQ test.



    Report abuse

  • 6
    Fish Eagle says:

    The notion that the processes and mechanisms which drive natural selection would be completely “silent” when it comes to what is arguably Homo sapiens’ best ‘trick’ to survive as the fittest, namely IQ, is glaringly preposterous.

    Consider the many, less critical attributes of being human that are accepted as being the result of natural selection shaping these through genetics. Why on earth should it be OK to accept that genetics critically influences the shape of your big toe, but that genetics is stubbornly politically correct by remaining completely “silent” when it comes to IQ?



    Report abuse

  • The researchers did not find any individual protein-altering SNPs that met strict criteria for differences between the high-intelligence group and the control group. However, for SNPs that showed some difference between the groups, the rare allele was less frequently observed in the high intelligence group. This observation is consistent with research indicating that rare functional alleles are more often detrimental than beneficial to intelligence.

    The article tells us the that “the rare allele was less frequently observed in the high intelligence group.” Because the study claims significant findings based on quantity (numbers) and not quality, the researchers need to provide those numbers to the reader. “Less frequently observed in the high intelligence group” tells us nothing about the numerical measures of “less frequency;” and more importantly nothing about any overlap between individuals in the high intelligence group and the control group from the general population. Did some of the very bright people have more rare functional alleles than some of the control group members? Dr. Plomin stesses that the research did not attempt to identify a gene or genes for intelligence but a small part of the genetic architecture perhaps underlying tendencies for higher intelligence. In fifty words or less Dr. Plomin could have given us numbers that inform the boundaries and possible ambiguities of his study. Why be coy when you can be clear?



    Report abuse

  • A couple of thoughts, 1. A person may have a high IQ, yet do foolish things. 2. It seems that on average people of high IQ have fewer offspring. Does this bode well for our future?



    Report abuse

  • My late grandfather had an IQ (highest recorded at Cal Tech at the time) of 182. Not bad for a self taught individual who only went to the 3rd grade. I missed a great argument he had with the late Dr. Edward Teller at his house in CA back about 1970 (concerning my grandfather’s design of a partial-pressure water desalination plant). His comment concerning Teller was that Teller was not so bright beyond nuclear physics.

    All of his 8 children were very intelligent. My last recorded IQ was somewhere in the low 160s, though I wasn’t shown the actual number — actual number means little to me. What is important, is that I certainly inherited some aspect of brain cell functioning from my grandfather.

    The idea that intelligence would not have a genetic basis is almost an anti-evolutionary concept. Intelligence, and I mean applied intelligence, certainly has an evolutionary / genetic basis. It is primarily the result of mutation, leading to more effective neuron activity, and more effective tools. When expressed by the more competent tool maker (more high value food — for one), it leads to an advantage in differential reproduction.



    Report abuse

Leave a Reply

View our comment policy.