Scientists: We May Be Able to Alter Human Intelligence

There are 2 gene networks perhaps controlled by master 'switches': researchers
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 22, 2015 2:59 PM CST
In this July 29, 2013, photo, a researcher holds a human brain in a lab at Northwestern University's cognitive neurology and Alzheimer's disease center in Chicago.   (AP Photo/Scott Eisen)

(Newser) – Researchers from London's Imperial College think they've found two networks of genes, possibly controlled by a master system, that control cognitive functions—a find that may allow them to modify human intelligence down the line, the Guardian reports. In a study published in Nature Neuroscience, scientists say these M1 and M3 clusters control cognitive functions such as memory, attention, and reasoning, per the Daily Express. "Traits such as intelligence are governed by large groups of [genes] working together—like a football team made up of players in different [positions]," study co-author Dr. Michael Johnson says, per the Guardian. By figuring out how these "players" work together, scientists could perhaps boost cognitive abilities by simply flicking the equivalent of a master switch. And based on other findings in the study linking mutations of those same genes to cognitive impairments, research in this area may be lead to treatment of cognitive issues that accompany neurodevelopmental diseases such as epilepsy, Dr. Johnson notes, per the Guardian.

Researchers analyzed "huge sets of data" taken from samples of mouse and human brains, the paper notes, as well as info from a previous health study and genetic data from volunteers (both healthy ones and those with autism and other intellectual disabilities) who took IQ tests. Not only did they find evidence for the disparate gene networks—they also found that the same genes that apparently contribute to the intelligence of healthy subjects damaged cognitive abilities if they were mutated. "Eventually we hope that this sort of analysis will provide new insights into better treatments for neurodevelopmental disease … and ameliorate or treat the cognitive impairments associated with these devastating diseases," Johnson says. Not everyone is thrilled with the idea of flipping a switch to play around with intelligence functioning. "Genetics is the science of inheritance, not pre-determinism, and there is no substitute for hard work and application," a University of Kent genetics professor tells the Express. (Predict your kid's intelligence—with a raisin.)

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