Considered Impossible – New Study of 5 Million People Reveals Genetic Links to Height

Human Body DNA Genetics Concept

The results of the research may help doctors identify patients who are unable to grow to their genetically projected height, which may subsequently facilitate the identification of undiagnosed diseases or conditions that may be preventing them from growing normally or negatively affecting their health.

The research was the largest-ever genome-wide association study.

The study, which was recently published in the journal Nature, is the largest genome-wide association study ever conducted, using the DNA of nearly 5 million individuals from 281 contributing studies. It fills a significant gap in our knowledge of how genetic differences contribute to height differences. Over one million research participants are of non-European heritage (African, East Asian, Hispanic, or South Asian).

The 12,111 variants that cluster around areas of the genome involved with skeletal growth offer a strong genetic predictor of height. For people of European ancestry, the identified variants account for 40% of the variance in height, and for those of non-European ancestry, 10–20%.

Adult height is mostly determined by the information encoded in our DNA; children of tall parents are likely to be taller, while children of short parents tend to be shorter, although these estimations aren’t perfect. The development of a small baby into an adult, as well as the role of genetics in this process, has long been a complicated and poorly understood aspect of human biology. The previous largest genome-wide association study on height employed a sample size of up to 700,000 people; the current sample is around seven times larger than earlier studies.

The study, which is being conducted at a scale never before seen, offers new levels of biological detail and understanding of why individuals are tall or short, with heredity being connected to various specific genomic regions. The results demonstrate that regions comprising just over 20% of the genome contain the majority of the gene variants linked to height.

The study’s findings could help doctors identify people who cannot reach their genetically predicted height, which may aid in the diagnosis of hidden diseases or conditions that may be stunting their growth or impacting their health. The research also provides a valuable blueprint on how it could be possible to use genome-wide studies to identify a disease’s biology and subsequently its hereditary components.

Greater genomic diversity needed

While this study has a large number of participants from non-European ancestries compared to previous studies, the researchers emphasize the need for more diversity in genomic research.

Most of the genetic data available are from people of European ancestry, so genome-wide studies don’t capture the wide range of ancestral diversity across the globe. Increasing the size of genome-wide studies in non-European ancestry populations is essential to achieve the same saturation level and close the gap in prediction accuracy in different populations.

Dr. Eirini Marouli, a co-first author of the study and Senior Lecturer in Computational Biology at Queen Mary University of London, said: “We have accomplished a feat in studying the DNA of over 5 million people that was broadly considered impossible until recently.”

She continues, “Genomic studies are revolutionary and might hold the key to solving many global health challenges – their potential is tremendously exciting. If we can get a clear picture of a trait such as height at a genomic level, we may then have the model to better diagnose and treat gene-influenced conditions like heart disease or schizophrenia, for example. If we can map specific parts of the genome to certain traits, it opens the door to widespread targeted, personalized treatments further down the line that could benefit people everywhere.”

Reference: “A saturated map of common genetic variants associated with human height” by Loïc Yengo, Sailaja Vedantam, Eirini Marouli, Julia Sidorenko, Eric Bartell, Saori Sakaue, Marielisa Graff, Anders U. Eliasen, Yunxuan Jiang, Sridharan Raghavan, Jenkai Miao, Joshua D. Arias, Sarah E. Graham, Ronen E. Mukamel, Cassandra N. Spracklen, Xianyong Yin, Shyh-Huei Chen, Teresa Ferreira, Heather H. Highland, Yingjie Ji, Tugce Karaderi, Kuang Lin, Kreete Lüll, Deborah E. Malden, Carolina Medina-Gomez, Moara Machado, Amy Moore, Sina Rüeger, Xueling Sim, Scott Vrieze, Tarunveer S. Ahluwalia, Masato Akiyama, Matthew A. Allison, Marcus Alvarez, Mette K. Andersen, Alireza Ani, Vivek Appadurai, Liubov Arbeeva, Seema Bhaskar, Lawrence F. Bielak, Sailalitha Bollepalli, Lori L. Bonnycastle, Jette Bork-Jensen, Jonathan P. Bradfield, Yuki Bradford, Peter S. Braund, Jennifer A. Brody, Kristoffer S. Burgdorf, Brian E. Cade, Hui Cai, Qiuyin Cai, Archie Campbell, Marisa Cañadas-Garre, Eulalia Catamo, Jin-Fang Chai, Xiaoran Chai, Li-Ching Chang, Yi-Cheng Chang, Chien-Hsiun Chen, Alessandra Chesi, Seung Hoan Choi, Ren-Hua Chung, Massimiliano Cocca, Maria Pina Concas, Christian Couture, Gabriel Cuellar-Partida, Rebecca Danning, E. Warwick Daw, Frauke Degenhard, Graciela E. Delgado, Alessandro Delitala, Ayse Demirkan, Xuan Deng, Poornima Devineni, Alexander Dietl, Maria Dimitriou, Latchezar Dimitrov, Rajkumar Dorajoo, Arif B. Ekici, Jorgen E. Engmann, Zammy Fairhurst-Hunter, Aliki-Eleni Farmaki, Jessica D. Faul, Juan-Carlos Fernandez-Lopez, Lukas Forer, Margherita Francescatto, Sandra Freitag-Wolf, Christian Fuchsberger, Tessel E. Galesloot, Yan Gao, Zishan Gao, Frank Geller, Olga Giannakopoulou, Franco Giulianini, Anette P. Gjesing, Anuj Goel, Scott D. Gordon, Mathias Gorski, Jakob Grove, Xiuqing Guo, Stefan Gustafsson, Jeffrey Haessler, Thomas F. Hansen, Aki S. Havulinna, Simon J. Haworth, Jing He, Nancy Heard-Costa, Prashantha Hebbar, George Hindy, Yuk-Lam A. Ho, Edith Hofer, Elizabeth Holliday, Katrin Horn, Whitney E. Hornsby, Jouke-Jan Hottenga, Hongyan Huang, Jie Huang, Alicia Huerta-Chagoya, Jennifer E. Huffman, Yi-Jen Hung, Shaofeng Huo, Mi Yeong Hwang, Hiroyuki Iha, Daisuke D. Ikeda, Masato Isono, Anne U. Jackson, Susanne Jäger, Iris E. Jansen, Ingegerd Johansson, Jost B. Jonas, Anna Jonsson, Torben Jørgensen, Ioanna-Panagiota Kalafati, Masahiro Kanai, Stavroula Kanoni, Line L. Kårhus, Anuradhani Kasturiratne, Tomohiro Katsuya, Takahisa Kawaguchi, Rachel L. Kember, Katherine A. Kentistou, Han-Na Kim, Young Jin Kim, Marcus E. Kleber, Maria J. Knol, Azra Kurbasic, … Michael Boehnke, Panos Deloukas, Anne E. Justice, Cecilia M. Lindgren, Ruth J. F. Loos, Karen L. Mohlke, Kari E. North, Kari Stefansson, Robin G. Walters, Thomas W. Winkler, Kristin L. Young, Po-Ru Loh, Jian Yang, Tõnu Esko, Themistocles L. Assimes, Adam Auton, Goncalo R. Abecasis, Cristen J. Willer, Adam E. Locke, Sonja I. Berndt, Guillaume Lettre, Timothy M. Frayling, Yukinori Okada, Andrew R. Wood, Peter M. Visscher, and Joel N. Hirschhorn, 12 October 2022, Nature.
DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-05275-y

10 Comments on "Considered Impossible – New Study of 5 Million People Reveals Genetic Links to Height"

  1. So what they just taught us that for decades saying height and features and all that were genetic but they actually didn’t know at all and thought of it as impossible for genetics to be linked to how tall you are…. Why did they teach it then and why’s the smart guys surprised by it….

    • Bartholomew Dubble | November 22, 2022 at 12:14 pm | Reply

      No, the title sucks. The words “considered impossible” refer the doing the a study like tgus on 5 million people, not the results they found.

  2. Earlier the Better | November 21, 2022 at 6:18 pm | Reply

    The problem with working on Genes of Humans, Animals and Plants is messing up their genomes. Only way to gain knowledge is by creation of Hybrids of Animals first and see the morphological and genomic changes. We have so many types of mice, rats, what not. For ex: ship the bison from here to other nations where they call them buffaloes and and ask them to ship their animals here. Preserve tissues of Hybrids and when Artificial intelligence & quantum computers are fully developed, everything will be fast and by studying genomes of those hybrids, we can attempt to CREATE new Species ourselves. So many kinds of monkeys out there. So many kinds of Canines out there. So, Best thing is to start making hybrids of animals which is not an expensive process and provide land for them to multiply. Start studying genomic changes in those hybrids. Japan has Snow Monkeys. In U.S NONE. Bring them and send animals they want too. In other words, make ALL kinds of hybrids possible and it will enhance the world and our knowledge too in many ways. Limit it to Herbivores, though. Carnivores, insect and rodent pests etc., should be confined to labs etc., only!

    • Putting animals of assorted species all over the world is not a good idea. They cause all kinds of problems. The extinction of the dodo bird was caused by the introduction of European animals to the Pacific Islands. Rabbits introduced to Australia caused habitat destruction. Introduction of new herbivores tends to cause the extinction of many species of plants. Incidentally, the American Bison is now considered a subspecies of domestic cattle. This is because cattle genes are found in all Bison except for those in one national park. Apparently this is because cattle are grazing most of the nation’s parks and forests. Cattle ranchers routinely sue to try to make the forestry service prioritize the herds grazing on and near federal land over the Bison and other wildlife! Controlled breeding of equines should be enough to get that information. Leave plants, insects, and other animals where they belong!

  3. I live in the Texas Gulf Coast, and it seems that that third and fourth generations after moving to this Texas get exceedingly taller, especially the males. Also, the Karankara Tribe that lived here were very tall–between 6 and 7 feet. Is this my imagination, or could it be something to be researched? It’s not just one race or cultural group, but seems to be the length of time generations of relatives live here. There’s always an influx of people moving here, but it would be interesting to study

    • Franz Boas studied this in the late 1800s/early 1900s in immigrants in the US and found that environment (predominantly diet changes) had a huge impact on height and weight of an individual.

  4. It is well known that smoking and drinking coffee will stunt your growth. Ask any jockey.

  5. What about people who exceed their predicted heights, such as Michael Jordan or Shaquille O’Neil?

  6. Or lack of nutrients, availability of protein, etc. in country of origin that ptevents optimal growth.

  7. I’m a 5′ 11″ female. My mother 5’3″ and father 5’6″ tall. I’m not adopted, but always felt different towering over my parents and other family as far as into my second cousins on both sides. I must be a mutant she-hulk.

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