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Not So Smart?

Chinese sequencing giant BGI is trying to identify the genes responsible for genius, but, writes Ed Yong this week in Nature, not everyone is sure the project is such a smart idea.

Led by Stephen Hsu — a theoretical physicist from Michigan State University and scientific adviser to BGI — and King's College London geneticist Robert Plomin, the effort will examine the genomes of 2,100 high-IQ individuals with the aim of identifying variants linked to extreme intelligence.

As Yong notes, inquiries into the genetic underpinnings of intelligence commonly generate controversy. However, in this case, the criticisms are aimed not so much at the scientists' line of inquiry as the project's experimental design.

In particular, outside researchers are raising concerns about the study's small sample size, Yong reports, citing Harvard University geneticist Daniel McArthur, who suggests that "if the genetics of intelligence are similar to those of schizophrenia or height... the team needs at least 10,000 cases and 10,000 controls."

These sample size issues could prove even more of a challenge if high IQ stems not from a number of variants but from a small number of rare mutations, adds Trinity College Dublin researcher Kevin Mitchell.

And even with a more substantial sample set, the effort would be something of a long shot, University of Queensland geneticist Peter Visscher says.

"Even for human height, where you have samples of hundreds of thousands, the prediction you'd get for a newborn person isn't very accurate," he tells Yong. "That will be true for IQ for a long time to come."

The Scan

And For Adolescents

The US Food and Drug Administration has authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech SARS-CoV-2 vaccine for children between the ages of 12 and 15 years old.

Also of Concern to WHO

The Wall Street Journal reports that the World Health Organization has classified the SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.617 as a "variant of concern."

Test for Them All

The New York Times reports on the development of combined tests for SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses like influenza.

PNAS Papers on Oral Microbiome Evolution, Snake Toxins, Transcription Factor Binding

In PNAS this week: evolution of oral microbiomes among hominids, comparative genomic analysis of snake toxins, and more.