It is amazing to hear from experts that brain enhancing drugs are right around the corner. In fact, the day is coming when we will give children a standard test for their cognitive ability prior to their starting school. This is because that recently there was a research team who successfully identified the genes responsible for cognitive ability. It is not the same thing as intelligence. Cognitive abilities refer to our capacities for learning, planning, reasoning, making decisions, and even remembering. The thing is that after we become adults, our IQ’s are fixed, but our cognitive abilities can be bolstered and improved through training.
Understanding the Role of Cognitive Ability
Some experts refer to cognitive ability as fluid intelligence because of all the skills required to being successful in endeavors such as school and professional pursuits. Another indicator of this fluid intelligence is our ability to react to new data or novel situations. Even though scientists have had a very good idea of what cognitive ability is, trying to figure out where it comes from physiologically has been a challenge.
Researchers have actually known for a while now which genes actually influence intelligence. In a study conducted in 2012, there were 20 genetic variants for human intelligence that were identified using the ENIGMA network, which is a group of various scientists who have combined brain scans to genetic data to get a better understanding of how the human brain works. Since that time, even more genetic connections to IQ have also been revealed, and this includes the KL gene—which thought to be responsible for around 3 percent of IQ variation within the population. However, cognitive ability has been a lot more difficult to hunt down, genetically speaking.
Making Links to Cognitive Abilities
Traditional science has always made a very strong argument about fluid intelligence coming primarily from the nurturing side of the human experience. The reason is because of 2 studies that were conducted within several countries which revealed that homes that had books and access to higher culture significantly improved the scholastic achievement of a child. In spite of this, a 2013 study from the University of Texas indicated that about 50-70% of human cognition variation could be attributed to our own genes. But it even gets more complicated than that.
Regarding the UT study, the researched noted in their report that “genetic influences on cognition are maximized in more advantaged socioeconomic contexts.” These genes can be either encouraged or suppressed in accordance with the environment that a person is exposed to as they grow up. The one thing that became very clear in all of these studies is that cognition within humans is extremely complex, and it is not likely to be connected to one physical location, but is connected to multiple locations within the genome.
One of the common problems with these studies has been that volunteer pools have just been way too small to recognize any genetic influences that are subtle. Scientists need bigger numbers of genomes to get a more accurate picture of exactly which genes pertain to cognitive ability. This would also point out whether the genes operate within a complex network or individually.
Scientists have not only recognized this problem, but many of them have increased their participant pools. One such study is being led by Todd Lencz, Ph.D. at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research located in Manhasset, NY. This study has 107,207 participants. Researchers refer to this as a genome-wide association study (GWAS).
These volunteers were subjected to a vigorous regiment of various psychological tests prior to donating their DNA. Their genomes were then sequenced and that data was compared to a massive database which contained genetic information from some 300,000 other people. And highest level of academic achievement of every people was noted as well. Scientists claim it is a reliable parameter for cognitive ability. In the end, Dr. Lencz and his colleagues successfully identified 350 candidate genes linked to cognitive ability. These results were posted within the publication Cell Reports.
“The field of genomics is growing by leaps and bounds,” Dr. Lencz stated. “Because the number of genes we can discover is a direct function of the sample size available, further research with additional samples is likely to provide even more insight into how our genes play a role in cognitive ability.”
Just remember that brain enhancing drugs are right around the corner.