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Measuring Up: Scientists Spot Genes Linked to Height

The answer to how tall a child will be is typically an estimate based on an average of the parents’ heights.

But an Australian study that included more than 5 million people has found that more than 12,000 genetic variants influence height.

“Eighty percent of height differences between people are determined by genetic factors,” said researcher Loic Yengo of the University of Queensland Institute for Molecular Bioscience.

“The 12,000 variants that we found explain 40% of height differences, meaning we’ve opened the door for DNA to be used to predict height more accurately than ever before,” he explained in a university news release.

About 600 researchers worked on what was described as the largest-ever genome-wide association study (GWAS), analyzing data from 5.4 million people.

“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,” Yengo added.

The research could aid in diagnosing potential health issues in children, or help police estimate a suspect’s height through their DNA, the researchers suggested.

“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,” Yengo said. “It will put parents’ minds at ease if children are growing as their genes predict, or it will trigger further medical investigation and help pick up potential issues sooner.”

The study included more than 1 million people of non-European descent. Although that was more than usual for a GWAS investigation, the study was still skewed toward people of European descent, a known problem in research, Yengo said.

“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,” he added.

This study could lead to research into other traits and diseases controlled by genes, according to the study team. For now, this team plans to work to identify the remaining genetic factors for height.

“These other factors will be harder to find as they each have a lesser effect and we may need at least 20 million samples to complete that herculean task,” Yengo said.

The findings were published online Oct. 12 in the journal Nature.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more about predicting a child’s height.

SOURCE: University of Queensland, news release, Oct. 12, 2022

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