Landmark Genetic Study of Height in Humans

Variation in human height is partly due to diet and environment, but an estimated 80% of the variation is believed to be genetic. Combining genome-wide association methods and an unmatched dataset of more than 700,000 participants, a recent study narrowed down the set of candidate changes to 83 variants, some of which altering height by more than 2 cm (~0.8 inches). Over 300 scientists from across the globe, including researchers from the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics - among whom are group leaders Dr. Zoltán Kutalik, co-Principal Investigator of the paper, and Dr. Sven Bergmann - have combined their effort to study what makes us shorter or taller. In the context of precision medicine, the results also bring hope to understand the genetic basis of complex diseases such as diabetes or schizophrenia. The study was published online on February 1, 2017 in Nature. The article is titled “Rare and Low-Frequency Coding Variants Alter Human Adult Height.” Who will suffer from a heart attack before 55 years old despite a healthy lifestyle? Or which children will develop leukemia, and how will they respond to treatments? These and similar questions motivate precision medicine, that is an approach aiming to combine multiple types of data, including genetic information, to predict disease development and severity, and response to therapies. Adult height is mostly determined by the information encoded in our DNA: children from tall parents tend to be taller. “The idea is that if we can understand the genetics of a simple human trait like height, we could then apply this knowledge to develop tools to predict complex human diseases such as diabetes or schizophrenia,” explains Dr.
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