For nearly a century, twin and adoption studies have yielded substantial estimates of heritability for cognitive abilities, although it has proved difficult for genomewide-association studies to identify the genetic variants that account for this heritability (i.e., the missing-heritability problem). However, a new approach, genomewide complex-trait analysis (GCTA), forgoes the identification of individual variants to estimate the total heritability captured by common DNA markers on genotyping arrays. In the same sample of 3,154 pairs of 12-year-old twins, we directly compared twin-study heritability estimates for cognitive abilities (language, verbal, nonverbal, and general) with GCTA estimates captured by 1.7 million DNA markers. We found that DNA markers tagged by the array accounted for .66 of the estimated heritability, reaffirming that cognitive abilities are heritable. Larger sample sizes alone will be sufficient to identify many of the genetic variants that influence cognitive abilities.Contra confused people on twitter and elsewhere, one need not speculate about what the BGI study will or will not find. The Visscher study convincingly demonstrated a year and a half ago that breeding values for IQ could be estimated from SNP microarray data. No new technology or theoretical breakthroughs are required to capture most of the genetic component of IQ -- only larger sample sizes.
In summary, GCTA estimates confirmed about two thirds of twin-study estimates of heritability for cognitive abilities, using the same measures at the same age in the same sample. This finding implies that, with sufficiently large sample sizes, many genes associated with cognitive abilities can be identified using the common SNPs on current DNA arrays. Whole-genome sequencing might help to close the rest of the missing-heritability gap by identifying rare DNA variants that contribute to the heritability of cognitive abilities, although other possibilities remain, including the possibility that twin and adoption studies have overestimated heritability. GCTA might also mark the beginning of the end of the nature-nurture controversy because it is much more difficult to dispute DNA-based evidence for genetic influence than it is to question the results of twin and adoption studies.