Do you have the maths genius gene? Version of just ONE gene you inherit from your parents increases brain size and improves numerical skill

  • Experts from Germany studied the DNA and brains of 178 3–6-year-old children
  • They compared this data with results of maths tests taken during the ages of 7–9
  • Variants in a growth gene called ROBO1 alter the size of the ‘right parietal cortex’
  • This area of the brain is thought to be used in handling quantity representation
  • The team found that a larger right parietal cortex resulted in a better test score

Variations in a single gene appear to be associated with both the size of grey matter in the part of the brain that handles quantity representation — and your maths ability.

Researchers from Germany studied the genomes and brains of 178 young children — looking for links to their later maths test results after a couple of years at school.

The team found that variants in ROBO1 — a gene which regulates the growth of the brain’s outmost layer of neural tissue — affect the size of the right parietal cortex.

As this brain region is thought to play a role in counting and number processing, its growth could explain previous suggestions that ROBO1 contributes to maths ability.

The study was conducted by neuropsychologist Michael Skeide of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, in Leipzig, and his colleagues.

‘We found that ROBO1, a gene known to regulate prenatal growth of cerebral cortical layers, is associated with the volume of the right parietal cortex, a key region for quantity representation,’ the team wrote in their paper.

‘Individual volume differences in this region predicted up to a fifth of the behavioural variance in mathematical ability.’

In their work, the researchers analysed the genomes of 178 children of the ages of 3–6 years — and specifically before they had received any mathematical training.

For each child, they compared this data with measurements of grey matter volume across the whole brain as detected via magnetic resonance imaging. 

They then used a maths test taken when each participant reached the second grade at school — around the ages of 7–9 — to assess which genes and regions of the brain might be related to improved numerical ability. 

Dr Skeide and colleagues focused on 10 genes — including ROBO1 — which previous studies have suggested could play a role in mathematical potential.

The team found that variants in ROBO1 ¿ a gene which regulates the growth of the brain's outmost layer of neural tissue ¿ affect the size of the right parietal cortex. Pictured: clusters in the right parietal cortex that were found to be associated with the growth gene ROBO1. Red represents data from the first 101 children studied; blue from the replication study with 77 kids

The team found that variants in ROBO1 — a gene which regulates the growth of the brain’s outmost layer of neural tissue — affect the size of the right parietal cortex. Pictured: clusters in the right parietal cortex that were found to be associated with the growth gene ROBO1. Red represents data from the first 101 children studied; blue from the replication study with 77 kids

Moreover, children with larger volumes of grey matter in the right parietal cortex at ages 3¿6 were found to perform better in the maths test when aged 7¿9. Pictured: clusters in the right parietal cortex that were found to be associated with both the growth gene ROBO1 and performance in mathematical tests taken between the ages of 7¿9. Red represents data from the first 101 children studied; blue from the replication study with 77 kids

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Moreover, children with larger volumes of grey matter in the right parietal cortex at ages 3–6 were found to perform better in the maths test when aged 7–9. Pictured: clusters in the right parietal cortex that were found to be associated with both the growth gene ROBO1 and performance in mathematical tests taken between the ages of 7–9. Red represents data from the first 101 children studied; blue from the replication study with 77 kids

The team found that variations in ROBO1 are significantly associated with an increase in the size of the right parietal cortex.

Moreover, children with larger volumes of grey matter in the right parietal cortex at ages 3–6 were found to perform better in the maths test when aged 7–9.

This, the team wrote, suggests that ‘individual differences in right parietal cortex growth’ might represent the missing link in our understanding of ‘reported associations between DNA variation and behavioural mathematical performance.’

‘This interpretation is compatible with numerous studies showing that the parietal cortex specifically contributes to mathematical cognition from childhood on and keeps this decisive role in adulthood,’ they added.

The full findings of the study were published in the journal PLOS Biology.

‘INTELLIGENCE QUOTIENT’ (IQ) IS A MEASURE OF MENTAL ABILITY

IQ stands for Intelligence Quotient and it is used to measure mental ability.

The abbreviation ‘IQ’ was first coined by psychologist William Stern to describe the German term Intelligenzquotient.

Historically, IQ is a score achieved by dividing a person’s mental age, obtained with an intelligence test, by their age.

The resulting fraction is then multiplied by 100 to obtain an IQ score.

An IQ of 100 has long been considered the median score.

Because of the way the test results are scaled, a person with an IQ of 60 is not half as intelligent as someone with an IQ of 120.

The arrangement of IQ scores also means that results are ‘normally distributed’, meaning just as many people score either side of the average. 

For example, the same amount of people score 70 as people who score 130.

Although the accuracy of intelligence tests is somewhat disputed, they are still widely used.

For Mensa, the acceptance score requires members to be within the top two per cent of the general population.

Depending on the IQ test, this can require a score of at least 130.

Famous people’s IQ scores: 

  • Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking – 160
  • Donald Trump – 156 
  • Emma Watson – 138  
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger – 135 
  • Nicole Kidman – 132



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