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Aurora magazine

Height is a matter of (many) genes

The height is hereditary, in large part. Studies on twins and families have shown that our centimeters depend 80% on genes. What genes, though? This is still unclear and for good reason, apparently: the genetic factors responsible could be tens or more. Research has identified hundreds of genetic variants that could be linked to height. There is a problem: each gene only minimally influences this trait.

This means that an individual's height does not depend on one or two genes, but on the coordinated work of hundreds of genetic variants. There remains a pending issue: the set of variants still fails to explain the data collected in family studies. The phenomenon is called "missing inheritance" and is especially relevant in research on genetic diseases. According to some geneticists, it is possible that our understanding of genes has partly failed. In short, we would be missing something.

This is why a study at King's College in London investigated the issue. According to the study, pieces that fall into the missing inheritance are detectable in rare genetic variants. Most studies are based on the 500,000 common genetic variants, detected by the sequencing of a few hundred people. On the one hand these huge databases simplify the search; on the other, they may have pushed us to neglect some slightly more hidden variations.

For the study in question, the researchers sequenced the entire genome of 21,620 people. This allowed them to detect even the less common variants, some of which were also linked to the height. A result that is partly reassuring for genetics, but which shows how complex the issue is.