No Simple Relationship Between Changing Environment and Gene Penetrance Interview with:

Dalton Conley PhD Department of Sociology Princeton University Princeton, NJ 08644

Dr. Dalton Conley

Dalton Conley PhD
Department of Sociology
Princeton University
Princeton, NJ 08644 What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: An increasing number of nationally representative social science surveys are now genotyping respondents. The Health and Retirement Study, which follows a representative group of Americans 50 and older since 1992, genotyped its subjects in 2006 and 2010. The range of birth cohorts allowed us to see if genetic effects increased or decreased across the middle half of the twentieth century for a number of outcomes. We found that for height and weight, genetics increased in importance, but for heart disease and education, genes became less important. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: The results were a surprise. For all the outcomes, the environment became more “conducive” to the phenotype: Education was expanded, childhood nutrition improved, calories became more abundant, and the American diet became more heart disease generative. But for height and weight, we saw that uncapping previous environmental restraints led to a flourishing of our individual genetic propensities but for education and heart disease, “more” did not necessarily mean more genetic influence (rather, less, actually). The education results, for instance, seemed to stand in contrast to prior assumptions and some evidence based on twins. This suggests that there is no simple relationship between a changing environment and genetic penetrance. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Definitely researchers should see if these trends continued as documented in our study. Our last birth cohort is 1955. But at least for BMI, height and education, we should be able to look at the relative influence of genes and environment. Probably recent birth cohorts are too young for heart disease to have manifested enough to be detectable in our models. Thank you for your contribution to the community.

Changing Polygenic Penetrance on Phenotypes in the 20th Century Among Adults in the US Population
Dalton Conley,  Thomas M. Laidley,  Jason D. Boardman & Benjamin W. Domingue
Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 30348 (2016)

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