Height is a physical feature that relates more closely to masculinity than femininity. It’s a trait with high hereditability, meaning inherited genes almost entirely determine it. Eighty percent of height differences between people are defined by genetic factors.
In a new study, scientists from the University of Queensland and 600 researchers in the largest-ever genome-wide association study (GWAS) have identified genetic variants that influence height. After analyzing data from 5.4 million people, they uncovered 12,000 genetic variants influencing height. These variants explain 40 percent of height differences.
The study has opened the door to using DNA to predict height more accurately than ever.
Dr. Loic Yengo and Professor Peter Visscher from UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience said, “Currently, a child’s height is best predicted using the average height of their two biological parents, but using this genomic data, pediatricians will be able to get a better estimate. It will put parents’ minds at ease if children are growing as their genes predict, or it will trigger a further medical investigation and help pick up potential issues sooner.”
“The findings could also be used in police investigations to predict height from a suspect’s DNA sample at a crime scene.”
“In smaller studies, findings appeared scattered in the genome, but the huge sample size in this study means that, for the first time, we have seen height-associated variants cluster, particularly near genes involved in skeletal growth disorders.”
“While this is an achievement, the data is still skewed to people of European ancestry, a known problem in genetic studies. There is a growing number of worldwide initiatives to collect more diverse genetic data because it is critical to widen the benefit of genetic studies to all populations.”
Scientists plan to dive deep to identify the remaining genetic factors for height. These other factors will be harder to find as they each have a lesser effect.
Dr. Yengo said, “We may need at least 20 million samples to complete that herculean task.”