Directors: Antonio M. Battro and Kurt W. Fischer
Program officer: María Lourdes Majdalani
Using DNA in research on mind, brain and education
Genetics is a crucial link between mind, brain and education (MBE). It is important for young MBE researchers to know about DNA because DNA will be widely used in future MBE research. A major shift in genetics has occurred towards a quantitative trait locus (QTL) perspective that views genetic influence on complex traits in terms of many DNA loci of very small effect size, not just a few genes of large effect. Although a single QTL of small effect size could not be used in MBE research unless samples were huge, sets of these QTLs that together account for much of the genetic influence on an MBE trait can be used as genetic risk indicators in research with modest sample sizes. A major technological breakthrough for finding so many QTLs of such small effect size is the microarray, which can genotype hundreds of thousands of DNA markers (single-nucleotide polymorphisms, SNPs) in a few hours for a few hundred dollars. Although finding such QTLs is difficult and expensive, once QTLs are found it will be easy and inexpensive to use them as genetic risk indicators in any research. Using QTL sets as genetic risk indicators will be made even easier and even less expensive as SNP microarrays are produced with QTL sets specific to major MBE traits. All you need is DNA, which can be obtained inexpensively using a Q-tip to rub the inside of the cheek -- blood is not needed. I will present new data on a QTL set for early reading problems and plans to use this reading QTL set in two studies: (1) to select children on the basis of their reading genotype for a brain imaging study and (2) to identify 4-year-olds who are genetically at risk for later reading problems in at attempt to prevent or ameliorate reading problems using a phonology-based intervention. As QTL sets become available for other MBE traits and are used in MBE research, they will transform the field as they lead to DNA-based diagnoses and DNA-based educational programs to treat and prevent learning disabilities, as well as basic research on the pathways in the brain and mind that mediate genetic effects on cognitive development.