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Height is Determined Mostly by Genes, Researchers Report

Update Date: Oct 06, 2014 09:59 AM EDT

Based on new research conducted by the International Genetic Investigation of Anthropometric Traits (GIANT) Consortium, researchers reported that height is linked to a large number of genes.

"Height is almost completely determined by genetics, but our earlier studies were only able to explain about 10 percent of this genetic influence," co-senior investigator on the study, Joel Hirschhorn, MD, PhD, of Boston Children's Hospital and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, leader of the GIANT Consortium, said. "Now, by doubling the number of people in our study, we have a much more complete picture of how common genetic variants affect height-how many of them there are and how much they contribute."

For this study, which is the largest genome-wide association study (GWAS) to be conducted so far, the team examined more than 300 institutions that involved 253,288 participants. The researchers analyzed roughly two million common genetic variants. Common variants were apparent in at least five percent of the entire sample.

The team was able to narrow the genes down in relation to height. They found that 697 variants located on 424 gene regions were tied to height. This is the largest number of genetic variants that has ever been tied to a single trait or disease.

"We can now explain about 20 percent of the heritability of height, up from about 12 percent where we were before," study's co-first author, Tonu Esko, PhD, of Boston Children's Hospital, the Broad Institute and the University of Tartu in Estonia explained according to the press release.

Co-senior investigator Timothy Frayling, PhD, of the University of Exeter, U.K, added, "In 2007 we published the first paper that identified the first common height gene, and we have now identified nearly 700 genetic variants that are involved in determining height. We believe that large genetic studies could yield similarly rich lists in a variety of other traits."

The team plans on examining genetic variants that occur at a lower frequency (less than five percent). The researchers also want to look for variants that occur in the non-protein-coding regions of genes.

The study was published in Nature Genetics.

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