A Gene For Intelligence?

Previews Ahead Of London 2012 Olympic Games

It looks as if they have found a gene called KL-VS, whose critical protein is called klotho. They thought it could help prevent aging. But they discovered something different. The gene boosts

cognitive faculties regardless of a person’s age by the equivalent of about six IQ points. If this result, just published in Cell Reports, is confirmed, KL-VS will be the most important genetic agent of non-pathological variation in intelligence yet discovered.

This requires you to believe in IQ as a measure of general intelligence, and to believe in genes as powerful influencers of human intelligence. These assumptions could complicate your career in most universities, but for some unaccountable reason, the scientists do not regard either theory as problematic. Then this:

The six-point IQ gap is an extrapolation, since the cognitive tests did not measure general intelligence directly. But if it is correct, variation in the KL gene could account for as much as 3% of the variation of IQ in the general population (or, rather, in the population from which the researchers’ samples were drawn, namely white Americans).

That’s a lot for a little protein. Could this new discovery help create a pill to combat Alzheimers or one that could generally make us smarter? A PreP for the SAT? Probably not fast enough to stay ahead of the machines, I’d wager. But it’s a start. And it’s a leading indicator of what we’ll soon be finding out about genetics – with all the troubling, exciting, uplifting and dangerous consequences we are oh-so-unwilling to confront ahead of time.

Update from a reader:

Just a note about your post on the KL-VS gene variant. I’m quite familiar with this research, and the scientists behind it never tested IQ, nor did they claim to. That idea, and the notion that the KL-VS variant somehow confers a 6 IQ point advantage, was introduced in The Economist‘s coverage of the work, and how they arrived at that number is quite unclear. The tests the researchers actually did were all on different types of cognitive function, such as learning, memory and attention, because the focus of the work is on preventing cognitive decline in the elderly. Your commentary implies that IQ claims were part of the original research paper, which isn’t the case. The original paper is fascinating and worth a read!

(Photo: Ryan Lochte of the USA looks on during a USA team training session at the Aquatics Centre at Olympic Park on July 23, 2012 in London, England. By Michael Regan/Getty Images.)