An Intelligence Gene? High IQ May Be in Our DNA


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Always been the smarty pants in your group?  Awww, SNAP!  Chances are, it’s in your DNA.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

A study of Dutch families (Gosso MF et al., 2006) found that Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) rs363050, located on the SNAP-25 gene is associated with “performance IQ” (i.e. non-verbal IQ).

Each copy of “A” at rs363050 in a person’s genotype increased the subjects’ performance IQ by an average of three points compared to those with no copies of “A”.The authors estimated that rs363050 accounts for 3.4% of the variation in performance IQ between people.

I learned this little tidbit while exploring my Health Traits on the 23andMe website.  A single user-posted question, “Is There Anyone Else with 2 Copies of the Gene for Intelligence?” sparked over 260 replies from users sharing their genotypes, those of their family members, as well as IQ scores, SAT/GRE scores, levels of degrees obtained, and much more to both support AND oppose the findings of this research.

When you get down to brass tacks, no one who fancies him/herself as intelligent wants to look at their own genotype & have it read otherwise … anymore than someone wants their Kindness Gene genotype to tell them they can’t be empathetic.

Of course for this and other similar discussions, there is the nature vs. nurture debate … it can be challenging to study heritability or genetic differences in intelligence due to the fact that it is difficult to rule out other factors such as environment and opportunities (Rowe et al., 1999; Turkheimer et al., 2003).

What are your thoughts re: intelligence and heritability vs. outside influences such as environment?

Have you been tested on 23andMe?  If yes, was your genotype what you expected?





The Science of Happiness

According to recent studies, having two copies of a particular gene are the reason some of us tend to look on the bright side. Those of us who have a long variant of a gene called 5-HTLLPR (or the SERT gene), which helps to recycle serotonin faster and more efficiently than the short variant, tend to be the happiest.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays an intricate role in our behavior. Lower levels of serotonin in the brain can lead to depression. If you are a 23andMe member, you can view the single nucleotide polyporphism (SNP) data for rs4251417 where ‘C’ would indicate the short variant.

Given how well I know myself and my family history, I was not surprised to learn that I had two copies of the short variant. Some people are very discouraged to learn this about themselves. I look at it this way — knowledge is power. So I’m not hard-wired for happiness… so what? It just means that I have to try a little harder.

I always find that starting the day off with exercise leaves me feeling more positive throughout the day. It may be the LAST thing I want to do when I wake up in the morning, but I know how much better I feel after a workout.

Other ways to boost your serotonin levels include a good hearty meal (yep, that’s why they call it comfort food!) as well as good times with friends or family. Try choosing what suits you best on a given day.

Stay positive! Your genes do play a role in how you feel, but ultimately YOU are in control of your reactions.

More 23andMe Tips: Using the Family Inheritance Feature

As promised last Friday, I am following up my last post with another post on tips to help with your 23andMe relative finding endeavors!

I recently shared genomic data with a woman who was born around the same time as my grandmother.  We haven’t figured out our common ancestor yet, but from looking at our genomic data we share 10Mb of data on the X chromosome.  According to 23andMe, the region that we have in common contains genetic information related to female fertility.  Pretty interesting from a health and wellness perspective!

I know from chatting with some of the folks that I have met in the community that not everyone knows where to find this information.  This is what I am going to share with you today.

Log in to the service and navigate to Family Inheritance.  At the top, you will see an option “Compare the genome of” (yourself) “To the genome of” (people with whom you share genomic data) — Note:  names are hidden to keep member data private

Select yourself from the left hand column and begin going through your connections from the right hand column.  Initially, you will be looking at a Genome-Wide Comparison of yourself 1:1 against your connections.

When you find a shared segment of DNA (as I found a half-identical segment in the above picture in blue), you can then narrow your focus & look at specific genes per the options on the right hand side of the screen (Bitter Tasting, Circadian Rhythm, Endurance, Female Fertility, etc.)

You may be lucky and find your common ancestor after a few brief emails back and forth with a contact.  In most instances it will likely be more challenging, but after you find your common ancestry with one member the Family Inheritance feature can help you narrow down other relationships.  For instance, I met a predicted 4th cousin who also had a paternal aunt using the service.  He, his aunt, and I all share a half-identical section of DNA and therefore we could immediately focus on my 4th cousins paternal side to find our connection.

Happy relative finding!  As always, please feel free to comment on a post, email me directly, or Tweet any questions or comments!

Tips for Finding Relatives Quickly and Easily on 23andMe and Improving Your Odds That They Return Contact

I am a member of the 23andMe community.  For those of you not aware of 23andme, they are a personal genetic testing company located in Mountain View, California not far from my home.
If you are interested in wellness and in science (which I assume you are if you have found my blog!), then check out their site to learn more about their service.I tweeted today about how I had been able to find three 23andMe users with whom I had determined our relationships.  What I found really interesting was that the four of us are scattered around the world and didn’t see a link initially based on our last names or our listed surnames.  While our ages ranged from 30s to 80s, we all ended up being related via the same family line!

My tweet received a reply from a 23andMe member who wanted to know if I had any tips on how to make the Relative Finder process less intimidating.  For example, when I log in, I can see 352 people who are predicted third cousins to “distant” cousins.  Most are just listed as “Male” or “Female,” so unless a member has made their profile public it can be tough to decide where to begin.  A second tweet came shortly after from @akhomenko via Twitter asking me to share my tips widely.  Seemed a perfect topic for today’s blog, so here goes!

Tip #1 — Go for the Low-hanging Fruit!
Log in to the service and navigate to Relative Finder.
At the top, you will see an option to sort your list in a variety of ways.
Select “Sort by Last Name”.  This will bring you all of the users with public profiles to whom there is a predicted relationship.  Scan the list of names to see if anything rings a bell and go from there.  If nothing looks familiar to you, then select the person who has the highest percentage of DNA in common with you.  I have found that members with public profiles are more responsive to direct messages and tend to share more in their profiles.  When you invite someone to share genomes make sure to customize the message!  Receiving a message that looks like it was written by a computer program is about as exciting as opening junk mail at home.  I find that I get the greatest response when I make the other party curious enough to answer my message.  Make it personal!  I might say something like this:

Hi Jennifer,

23andMe has identified us as potential 3rd cousins with .24% DNA in common, so we are definitely related.  I’d like to share stories with you to see if we can determine how we are related.  I hope to hear from you soon.



Tip #2 — Sort by Percent Shared
Still in Relative Finder, select “Sort by Percent Shared” from the drop-down menu.
Now you are going to see those members with whom you share the most DNA.  In my case, many of these are NOT public profiles, so you have to start out by sending an introductory message.  Again, customizing the message will increase the likelihood that the other person writes you back because you have peaked their curiousity.  For folks in this category, I started by those with whom I shared the greatest percentage of DNA.  The person at the top of my list and I shared .76% DNA, and we were quick to determine how we were related after sharing surnames.  With some of the other connections, I’ve really had to go through my family tree database (which luckily I had handed down to me by a first cousin of my grandmother that I met randomly via!)

This should get you started making a few initial connections.  In my next post, I will talk about how you can use the Compare Genes and Family Inheritance features to help you even further.

Enjoy the weekend!