Intelligence or IQ is more deeply rooted in genetics than it is in environment factors or upbringing. This is what researchers at Kings College London have found that genetics explain more than 60% of the variability in IQ test results. The nature vs nurture debate is clear: nature wins. This finding may explain why several prior studies have shown that children of professionals will tend to have significantly higher IQs than children of unskilled workers. This may also help explain why nearly 70% of students who attend the UK’s elite universities (Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, Imperial, St Andrews and the LSE) hail from public schools (i.e. the British term of fee paying high schools) which again means that most of these pupils hail from middle class backgrounds with professional parents. But the Kings College study also found that children were more likely to inherit other genetic traits that would, in addition to IQ, play a role in academic success including motivation and hard work.
So if IQ is largely genetic, is it possible to achieve super human intelligence? Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco have been studying the role of the ageing of klotho, a protein encoded by a gene called KL. A particular version of this gene, known as KL-Vs, has been shown to be associated with longevity, made possible through the reduction of age-related heart disease. But researchers made a startling discovery: the KL-VS not only curbs ageing, but it also boosts cognition faculties, regardless of a persons age, by the equivalent of 6 IQ points. Ironically, it does not curb cognitive decline, so it would appear to be a one time boost. Although six points will not result in superhuman intelligence, this variant of the gene is believed to explain up to 3% of the variability in human cognitive ability, which is multiples higher than any other gene previously identified to play a role on human cognition. The researchers than tested this finding by injecting mice with a similar variant of the gene and found that genetically engineered mice were much more adept at making their way through a maze than those mice without the VS equivalent version of the gene.
Superhuman intelligence: the answer is in the genes
Now, what if I told you that there are 1000s of genes that are believed to have an impact on cognition? And although their individual effects could be much less than the 3% caused by KL-VS, it would only take 1/10th of 1 IQ point, to add a total of 100 IQ points, should all of these ‘positive’ variants of these 1000 genes be switched on. This would in fact lead to superhuman intelligence.
Although this may sound like science fiction today, the Beijing Genomics Institute is currently running a trial to map the genomes of 2,000 of the world’s smartest people.
Superhuman intelligence may be closer than one thinks. I will write more about this in my next blog posting.