Mensa Foundation Honors Danielle Posthuma for Research Identifying Genes Correlated with Intelligence
Geneticist at VU University Amsterdam awarded $10,000 Mensa Foundation Prize
"Genetic science and engineering is currently the hottest topic in biology — witness its impact on Covid-19," said Prize Committee Chair Dr. Harry Ringermacher. "Dr. Posthuma's studies of genetic correlation with intelligence are the first to succeed in identifying specific genes within the human genome. Her credentials, visibility in her field, and publications were also excellent."
As head of the Department of Complex Trait Genetics at the VU University Amsterdam and Amsterdam University Medical Centre, Dr. Posthuma leads a group of 30 researchers from diverse fields, including statistics, stem cell biology, and bioinformatics. She has led two large-scale genetic discovery studies into intelligence. The first, whose results were published in 2017, led to the discovery of 52 genes linked to intelligence. A year later, in an even larger study of more than 200,000 people, Dr. Posthuma was able to identify another 939 genes associated with intelligence.
She is the lead author on innovative statistical tools such as MAGMA (for gene-set analyses) and FUMA (for post-genome-
"Intelligence is one of the most highly investigated traits in psychology and also one of the most heritable traits in humans," Dr. Posthuma said. "Heritability estimates range from 40 percent in childhood up to 80 percent in adulthood. Despite these high estimates of heritability, the actual genes have long remained elusive. Initial large-scale genetic discovery studies were mostly underpowered but did show that intelligence is highly polygenic and influenced by many genetic variants each of small effect."
Dr. Posthuma estimates that the current genetic results explain up to about 10 percent of heritable traits related to intelligence, with future studies expected to expand the knowledge even further.
"I've always been intrigued to know why it's so easy for some people to learn something, to study, and why it's much more difficult for other people," Dr. Posthuma said. "I would really like to understand, what is the underlying mechanism?"
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