Scientists Are Decoding the Genetics of Height

They've now identified nearly 700 genetic variants related to height
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 6, 2014 8:19 AM CDT
Scientists Are Decoding the Genetics of Height
The world's tallest man, Sultan Kosen of Turkey, measuring 8 feet 3 inches, right, poses next to a figure of the tallest man in history, Robert Wadlow.   (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

Scientists are knee-deep in a freakishly large study (part of the aptly named GIANT Consortium) to better understand the genetics at play in human height. They tell Reuters that height can tell us a lot about various aspects of human health—including diseases like "obesity, diabetes, asthma that are also caused by the combined influence of many genes acting together," says one geneticist—with taller height often being linked to better health, and shorter stature in children to worse health. The study involved more than 250,000 participants, all of European ancestry, and focused on 2 million common genetic variants (meaning they appeared in at least 5% of their subjects).

From those, they identified 697 gene variants in 424 regions related to height—which is the largest number ever associated with a trait or disease, according to the group's press release. In spite of the scope of their findings, the researchers say they're just getting started. "We can now explain about 20% of the heritability of height, up from about 12% where we were before," says a study co-author. That might not seem like a lot, but it's a giant step forward. "In 2007... we knew absolutely nothing about the genes and regions of the human genome," adds one geneticist. (Meanwhile, the tallest dog in the world recently died at the age of 5.)

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