Why not math skills genetically

Causes of Dyslexia and Dyscalculia : Reading, arithmetic and the genes

The fact that not only the ability of the teacher but also genes influence how well a person learns to read and do arithmetic is as well known as it is trivial. But how much does the inherited talent determine and how much does the learning conditions determine? In a study on twins, according to the journal “Nature Communications”, it was not only found which genes influence language learning and mathematical skills, but that apparently around half of these genes control both abilities.

Researchers at Oxford University, King’s College and University College London used data from the “Twins Early Development” study, which collected information on 13,000 pairs of twins born between 1994 and 1996. 2794 of these twin pairs at the age of 12 were tested for reading fluency and comprehension and had to solve math problems. The results were then compared with the genome samples from the twins. The researchers looked for connections between particularly good (or bad) test results and variations in individual genetic components of the twins. They found a connection between reading ability and 98 such genetic variations. Mathematical ability is determined by 135 gene variants in the genome.

Gene makes cells wander

“The analyzes show that the same set of subtle differences in the genome is important for both learning and arithmetic,” says Oliver Davis from University College London. "Something like that is to be expected, because in order to be able to perform arithmetic operations you need a certain language ability," says the dyslexia and dyscalculia expert Gerd Schulte-Körne from the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich. Last year he discovered one such gene, myosin-18b, which affects both language and numeracy skills. Apparently it regulates the size of a brain region that is known to play a role in arithmetic operations. Myosin-18b has also been linked to dyslexia, but the route by which it is so far unknown.

The list of genes found by the London study reappeared 39 that had already been discovered in other ways. Including one called DCDC2, which Schulte-Körne has been researching since 2006. While the exact function of most of the gene variants that have now been discovered is not known for reading or arithmetic, DCDC2 at least provides clues. It apparently regulates the migration of nerve cells to their destination and thus plays an important role in the development of the language center in the brain in the embryo and later in the growing human being.

"Complex traits, such as the ability or inability to learn, are influenced by a large number of genes, the respective contribution of which is very small," says study director Robert Plomin from King's College. Nevertheless, such studies could help to better understand the causes of dyslexia and dyscalculia, says Schulte-Körne. "If we know better whether a learning disability has a biological basis or is due to the learning environment, then we can also support the children better." This is the only way to find the right methods of assistance.

School and parents have to balance out genetic differences

The study confirms previous research that genetic differences between children explain a large part of the differences in performance in reading and arithmetic. “We have to recognize and respect these differences,” says Plomin. But that does not mean that nothing can be done to compensate for it. “It just means that parents, schools and teachers may have to work harder.” And that also applies to many other human abilities, which are developed partly through genes and partly through the environment.

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