Genes & Environment: Finding The Missing Heritability Of Complex Traits

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Society in Science

Stanford University

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Genes & Environment: Finding the Missing Heritability of Complex Traits was held at Stanford University on October 14 & 15, 2010. Made possible by the generous support of Society in Science, this unique scientific event examined the fundamental question of how complex behaviors and diseases come to be.

The meeting involved nine invited talks from preeminent researchers in the fields of psychology, biology, neuroscience, epidemiology, genetics, and related disciplines. The meeting was moderated by Dr. Gregory Gibson, Professor and Director of the Center for Integrative Genomics at Georgia Tech. Spectators of all kinds were welcome to attend, free of charge.

Thematic Overview

Why is it that humans vary in their susceptibility to major diseases, such as cancer, depression, schizophrenia, and HIV/AIDS? What determines complex human traits? Is it genes, the environment, a combination of both, or something else? These questions lie at the heart of a debate that has been raging for decades, namely the nature vs. nurture debate.

Modern technology has allowed us to dig deep into the genetic variation in human populations and associate that variation with traits of interest. However, the results of these so-called genome wide association studies (GWAS) have been sobering: While some traits are clearly associated with particular genetic variants, most variation in traits cannot be explained by variation in genes. This poses a paradox: Many traits cluster in families, but genetic variation seems to explain little variation. Where does the missing heritability come from?