Sunday, February 17, 2013

Smarty Pants and Genius Genes

Via Tyler Cowen, it seems that China is taking a serious look at the genetics of IQ.

At a former paper-printing factory in Hong Kong, a 20-year-old wunderkind named Zhao Bowen has embarked on a challenging and potentially controversial quest: uncovering the genetics of intelligence.

DNA samples from the super smart are being scarfed up and fed to 100 powerful gene sequencing machines. Evidently, the effort is patterned on a previous analysis that elucidated some of the genetics of height. Apparently it took DNA from about 10000 people to isolate 1000 genes that make you tall.

"People have chosen to ignore the genetics of intelligence for a long time," said Mr. Zhao, who hopes to publish his team's initial findings this summer. "People believe it's a controversial topic, especially in the West. That's not the case in China," where IQ studies are regarded more as a scientific challenge and therefore are easier to fund.

The roots of intelligence are a mystery. Studies show that at least half of the variation in intelligence quotient, or IQ, is inherited. But while scientists have identified some genes that can significantly lower IQ—in people afflicted with mental retardation, for example—truly important genes that affect normal IQ variation have yet to be pinned down.

Zhao is looking for IQ equivalent of the 6'9" person, those with IQs of 160 and up - four standard deviations above the mean, or about 1 in 30,000. Obviously, these people are pretty rare, so finding them is a task in itself.

One part of the plan called for shifting to saliva-based DNA samples obtained from mathematically gifted people, including Chinese who had participated in mathematics or science Olympiad training camps.

Another involved the collection of DNA samples from high-IQ individuals from the U.S. and other countries, including those with extremely high SAT scores, and those with a doctorate in physics or math from an elite university. In addition, anyone could enroll via BGI's website if they met the criteria.

The SAT maxes out below 4 standard deviations, so I'm not sure what this criterion amounts to. Prestigious U is also a bit vague, but readers in that category can apply, I suppose. AG, at least, should qualify.