Picture a world where fetuses are placed in career tracks prior to birth based on their tested levels of intelligence. Sound like a dystopia? Well, yeah. And we’re not saying that’s how this new genetic test from scientists at King’s College London will be applied. But we’re not ruling out the possibility of it being the first step toward a society of isolated kid-geniuses who run the world…
All dystopian musings aside, the new test — which takes information from one’s DNA to produce a “polygenic score” — could actually prove to be quite beneficial in the early diagnosis of learning disorders. Here’s the rationale behind the polygenic score: according to King’s College biological psychologist Saskia Selzam, DNA is thought to play a part in up to 10% of a child’s academic achievement through age 16. “Ten per cent is a long way from 100 per cent but it is a lot better than we usually do in predicting behavior,” she said. “For instance, when we think about differences between boys and girls in maths, gender explains around one per cent of the variance. Another example is ‘grit’, which describes the perseverance of an individual, and only predicts around five per cent of the variance in educational achievement.”
This is where the polygenic score comes in: it’s based on 74 genetic variants that are thought to play a part in educational performance, and therefore, academic achievement. The theory is that, if we know what a person’s DNA says about them early on, we could help them out even before learning problems manifest themselves.
“We believe that, very soon, polygenic scores will be used to identify individuals who are at greater risk of having learning difficulties,” Selzam explained.
Are we on the cusp of a creepy dystopian future involving grey linen jumpsuits and white walls? Maybe not. Hopefully, this is just another way that science will help everyone succeed to the best of their abilities.