Posted on 8 January 2021
Longevity briefs provides a short summary of novel research in biology, medicine, or biotechnology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.
Why is this research important: Understanding how our environment interacts with our genetic makeup to affect our health is important. It allows us to better understand what predisposes an individual to a disease, and how that disease can be prevented. It’s easy to miss the fact that the people with whom we surround ourselves form an important part of our environment. This raises an interesting question: how does the genome of the person you choose to share your life with influence your own health?
What did the researchers do: In this study published in Nature Human Behaviour, researchers used data from the UK Biobank to analyse the genetic variation, health and lifestyle traits of 80,889 heterosexual couples of European ancestry. 105 complex traits (meaning traits influenced by multiple genes) were chosen. They then used a statistical model to find associations between each individual’s traits and their partner’s DNA.
Many associations are likely to occur due to attraction between individuals with similar traits, rather than the genes of one individual affecting behaviour in the other. For example, a non-smoker may be less likely to form a couple with a smoker. In an attempt to account for this, researchers ran computer simulations of combinations of individuals in their dataset, in an attempt to estimate how much of the observed association was actually causative.
Key takeaway(s) from this research: Around 50% of the traits measured showed some correlation with the partner’s genes. The researchers estimated that of these correlations, around 25% were causative to some extent. These included some dietary traits, time spent watching television, susceptibility to mood swings, and smoking habits. Associations such as height were not deemed to be causative, which lends confidence to the study’s simulation approach.
The fact that these associations exist is really not surprising, but it is interesting to see a scientific study attempt to quantify the extent to which an individual’s genome can influence their partner. There may also be public health implications once genome sequencing becomes more routine. Disease prevention and management may one day be informed not only by the patient’s genome, but also by that of their partner.
Evidence of horizontal indirect genetic effects in humans: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-00991-9