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EdGe Report Summary

Project ID: 647648
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.1.

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - EdGe (The molecular genetic architecture of educational attainment and its significance for cognitive health)

Reporting period: 2017-03-01 to 2018-08-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

Since many social and economic outcomes are moderately heritable, it is possible to discover genetic variants associated with them. Such discoveries can yield new insights into the causal pathways underlying human behaviour, the complex interplay of environmental and genetic factors, and the relationship between socio-economic traits and health.
This projects builds on a genome-wide association study on educational attainment (EA) led by the applicant (Rietveld et al. 2013, Science), which identified for the first time specific genetic variants robustly associated with a socio-economic outcome. The project leverages the unique resources of the Social Science Genetic Association Consortium (SSGAC), which is co-led by the applicant.
The research will extend existing knowledge by: 1) discovering additional genetic variants and causal pathways associated with EA; 2) developing methods to use the available genetic association results in novel, more efficient ways; 3) shedding new light on characteristics related to EA such as economic preferences, cognitive function, and cognitive health; 4) showing how policies promoting EA interact with genetic predisposition; 5) using genetic information to better understand the causal effects of educational policy interventions, 6) developing better tools to identify individuals at risk for cognition-related diseases before the onset of symptoms; and 7) identifying causal pathways of genetic influence on cognitive health via neurobiological measures. The project aims to elucidate the complex causal pathways connecting genes, environment, individual characteristics, and health-related outcomes; make methodological contributions applicable in genetic epidemiology and the social sciences; and contribute towards designing more effective public policy, which could improve public health and lower health costs.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

Our work so far has yielded the following main outputs:

1) GWAS on educational attainment in a sample of N~300,000, identifying 74 genetic loci (published in Nature 2016)
2) GWAS on educational attainment in a sample of N~1,100,000, identifying 1,271 genetic loci (forthcoming in Nature Genetics 2018)
3) Development of a new method to identify causal effects in non-experimental data using polygenic scores (forthcoming in PNAS 2018)
4) Development of a new method to boost statistical power for genetic discovery and to improve the predictive accuracy of polygenic scores (MTAG, published in Nature Genetics 2016)

Overall, there are already 11 key publications (and numerous follow-up studies) that originated from the ERC grant until now. These 11 key publications have already yielded 625 citations until April 2018, demonstrating the fast and high impact of our research.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

Our work is pushing the boundaries in complex trait genetics and social science genetics thanks to unparalleled GWAS sample size, new statistical methods, and a careful communication of the results. Our GWAS on EA is by far the largest and most successful study of its kind on any social-scientific outcome to date. Furthermore, our work is building a new, inter-disciplinary research field that combines the social sciences, molecular genetics, and the medical sciences. Our work and the emergence of the new field of sociogenomics has also been discussed at length in several books by other scholars (e.g. Dalton Conley and Jason Flechter’s “The Genome Factor”, 2017, and David Reich’s “Who We Are and How We Got Here”, 2018), reflecting the impact of our research.

We expect that by the end of the project in 2020, our work will have led to substantial new insights into mental health outcomes (e.g. schizophrenia), the origins of individual differences in educational attainment, as well as the influence of education reforms and their interactions with genetic factors.
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