The genetics of human height

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If you are born of tall parents, chances are you are probably going to be tall as well. However, the understanding of height genetics has evaded scientists for a long time.

Researchers have unveiled what is being called the biggest study to date related to height. They analyzed genome data taken from more than 250000 people to attempt the identification of almost 700 genetic variants and in excess of 400 genome regions related to height.

It is estimated that a person’s height is 80% genetic, with other environmental factors and nutrition accounting for 20%. The average global height for people has increased over the past few generations and this is linked to factors such as improved nutrition.

Dr Joel Hirschhorn, a paediatric endocrinologist and geneticist at Boston Children’s Hospital and the Broad Institute of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, said height is studied for two main reasons.

He said by understanding the genetics of height, they will be able to understand the genetics of human disease. He said for more than a century, it has been a good model for studying the genetics of diseases, such as asthma, diabetes and obesity.

Along with this, short stature during childhood is a huge clinical issue for paediatric endocrinologists. He said by knowing the genes and their variants that are important for height, doctors may be able to diagnose children with a single underlying cause for short stature.

The research team analysed data from the genomes of 253288 people from European ancestry, based in Australia, North America and Europe. They assessed around two million common genetic variants in the individuals and identified 697 gene variants in 424 gene regions that were related to height.

The researchers said many of the genes found during the study are possibly vital regulators of skeletal growth, which were not previously known to be involved in height.

Some were related to a component of cartilage called chondroitin sulphate, growth plates, the section of growing tissue close to the ends of the long bones in the body and collagen, which forms a part of bone.

Timothy Frayling of Britain’s University of Exeter, said they have found the pieces of DNA that are different in people, which accounts for 20% of the genetic component to the usual height variation.

He said this is comparative to a situation during 2007 when they knew nothing about the genes and areas of the human genome responsible for height variations, despite knowing that height is genetic.

The 2010 study done by the team involved a smaller number of participants and resulted in the identification of 199 genetic variants presented in 180 genome regions.

The researchers stated that much more work needs to be done.

Image Credit: woodleywonderworks

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