Public Release: 

Same genes may influence GCSE results across range of subjects

King's College London

Many of the same genes may affect GCSE results across a broad range of subjects according to a new study from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King's College London.

The research, published today in Scientific Reports, also suggests that educational achievement at GCSE is highly heritable, with over half of the difference between results potentially due to inherited differences in DNA.

Previous studies have shown that academic achievement in the core subjects of English, mathematics and science at GCSE may be influenced by the same genetic traits. However, it was previously unclear if these genetic factors have an influence on a wider range of academic subjects.

The researchers analysed genetic data from 12,500 twins* to investigate if genetic factors could influence GCSE results.

They found that academic achievement in English, mathematics, science, humanities, second languages, business informatics and art was affected by the same genes. This shared genetic influence was found even when genetic effects due to general intelligence were removed.

All GCSE results were highly heritable, demonstrating that genes explain a larger proportion of the differences between children (54-65 per cent) than shared environmental factors, such as home and school environment combined (14-21 per cent).

The study's first author, Kaili Rimfeld from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King's College London, said: 'Our findings suggest that many of the same genes influence achievement across a broad range of disciplines, moving beyond core subjects such as English and maths to include humanities, business, art and languages. For the first time, we found that these general genetic effects on academic achievement remained even when the effects of general intelligence were removed.

'We also found that over half of the differences between children's educational achievement for all of these disciplines was explained by inherited differences in their DNA, rather than school, family and other environmental influences.

'The standardised curriculum used here in the UK could be one explanation for this strong genetic influence because all children have access to the same education and take the same standardised exams, thus the environmental differences are reduced.'

Professor Robert Plomin, last author from the IoPPN at King's College London, said: 'Understanding the specific genetic and environmental factors influencing individual differences in educational achievement - and the complex interplay between them - could help educationalists develop effective personalised learning programmes, to help every child reach their potential by the end of compulsory education.'

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For further media information please contact Jack Stonebridge, Press Officer, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King's College London jack.stonebridge@kcl.ac.uk/ (+44) 020 7848 5377 or (+44) 077 1869 7176

* The twins are part of the Medical Research Council (MRC) funded Twins Early Development Study (TEDS)

About King's College London: http://www.kcl.ac.uk

King's College London is one of the top 20 universities in the world (2014/15 QS World University Rankings) and among the oldest in England. King's has more than 26,500 students (of whom nearly 10,400 are graduate students) from some 150 countries worldwide, and nearly 6,900 staff. The university is in the second phase of a £1 billion redevelopment programme which is transforming its estate.

King's has an outstanding reputation for world-class teaching and cutting-edge research. In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) King's was ranked 6th nationally in the 'power'ranking, which takes into account both the quality and quantity of research activity, and 7th for quality according to Times Higher Education rankings. Eighty-four per cent of research at King's was deemed 'world-leading'or 'internationally excellent'(3* and 4*). The university is in the top seven UK universities for research earnings and has an overall annual income of more than £600 million.

King's has a particularly distinguished reputation in the humanities, law, the sciences (including a wide range of health areas such as psychiatry, medicine, nursing and dentistry) and social sciences including international affairs. It has played a major role in many of the advances that have shaped modern life, such as the discovery of the structure of DNA and research that led to the development of radio, television, mobile phones and radar.

King's College London and Guy's and St Thomas', King's College Hospital and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trusts are part of King's Health Partners. King's Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre (AHSC) is a pioneering global collaboration between one of the world's leading research-led universities and three of London's most successful NHS Foundation Trusts, including leading teaching hospitals and comprehensive mental health services. For more information, visit: http://www.kingshealthpartners.org.

King's fundraising campaign - World questions|King's answers -created to address some of the most pressing challenges facing humanity has reached its £500 million target 18 months ahead of schedule. The university is now aiming to build on this success and raise a further £100 million by the end of 2015, to fund vital research, deliver innovative new treatments and to support scholarships. The campaign's five priority areas are neuroscience and mental health, leadership and society, cancer, global power and children's health. More information about the campaign is available at http://www.kcl.ac.uk/kingsanswers.

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