The educational level a person obtains could be due, in part, to genes carried by the students. Genes identified as playing a part in educational attainment also factor into several other health issues, researchers uncovered.

A total of 253 researchers from around the world undertook one of the largest studies of human genetics ever conducted. In all, 64 data sets compiled from records from 15 different nations, were utilized to reach the newly-announced conclusions. Researchers found 74 genetic variants that correlated with the level of education completed by subjects in the investigation.

"This study builds on our earlier work in which we had studied 100,000 individuals and found three genetic variants linked to educational attainment. This time, because of our much larger sample — almost 300,000 individuals — we were able to identify far more genetic variants that are associated with educational attainment," said Daniel Benjamin of the University of Southern California.

Many other factors, such as socioeconomic status, family and personal tastes may also play significant roles in deciding whether or not a person decides to stay in school or undertake additional education. These genetic variants affect certain personality traits, such as persistence, which help to shape the number of years a person stays in school. They even assist on shaping the function of the brain before birth, providing some children with personality traits beneficial to a long school career.

In all, the effect of genes on educational attainment was small — roughly 0.43 percent of the total time spent in formal education. The largest effect — between those with zero or two copies of a particular gene — was correlated to a nine-week difference in education.

This subtle effect from 74 genes suggests that the genetic drive toward education is likely spread over thousands, if not millions, of variants. These genes also appear to play a role in other brain conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

The large number of subjects in the study, all from European descent, makes the study applicable to a wide range of studies, researchers note.

Analysis of these genetic variants and how they can affect educational attainment was published in the journal Nature.

Photo: U.S. Department of Education | Flickr

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