A study has suggested that the extent to which our development is affected by our genetic make-up or our environmental conditions, may differ depending on where we live.
Researchers from the Twins Early Development Study at King's College London's Institute of Psychiatry analysed the data from over 6,700 families and discovered that genetic and environmental contributions to these characteristics vary geographically in the United Kingdom.
AdvertisementThe team has published their results online as a series of nature-nurture maps.
The researcher gave example that we may carry genes that increase our risk of developing type II diabetes, but if we take up a healthy diet and get sufficient exercise, we may not develop the disease.
Similarly, someone may carry genes that decrease his or her risk of developing lung cancer, but heavy smoking may still lead to the disease.
The Study followed over 13,000 pairs of twins, both identical and non-identical, born between 1994 and 1996 to assess a wide range of cognitive abilities, behavioural (and other) traits, environments and academic achievement in 6,759 twin pairs.
They then designed an analysis that reveals the UK's genetic and environmental hotspots, something that had never been done before.
"These days we're used to the idea that it's not a question of nature or nurture; everything, including our behaviour, is a little of both," Dr Oliver Davis, a Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellow at King's College London's Institute of Psychiatry said.
"But when we saw the maps, the first thing that struck us was how much the balance of genes and environments can vary from region to region," Davis said.
The team insists that the nature-nurture maps give the researchers a global overview of the way in which environment interacts with our genomes, without homing in on particular genes or environments.
"The nature-nurture maps help us to spot patterns in the complex data, and to try to work out what's causing these patterns," Dr Davis said.
"There are any number of environments that vary geographically in the UK, from social environments like health care or education provision to physical environments like altitude, the weather or pollution. Our approach is all about tracking down those environments that you wouldn't necessarily think of at first," he said
Although it may be relatively easy to explain environmental hotspots, but what about the genetic hotspots: do people's genomes vary more in those regions?
The researchers believe that this is not the case. Genetic hotspots are areas where the environment exposes the effects of genetic variation.
Explaining this further, researchers said that, while searching for gene variants that increase the risk of hay fever one might need to study populations from two regions.
In the first region people live among fields of wind-pollinated crops, whereas the second region is miles away from such fields.
In this second region, where no one is exposed to pollen, no one develops hay fever; hence any genetic differences between people living in this region cannot be spotted.
On the other hand, the first region, where people live among the fields of crops will all be exposed to pollen, and the difference between individuals who are susceptible to hay fever and those who are not, can be easily made out. That would make the region a genetic hotspot for hay fever.
"The message that these maps really drive home is that your genes aren't your destiny. There are plenty of things that can affect how your particular human genome expresses itself, and one of those things is where you grow up," Dr Davis added.
This study has been published in journal Molecular Psychiatry.