Steampunk genetics

An article in European Journal of Human Genetics that came out a couple of years ago has always impressed me, and I just noticed that it has gone to open access: “Predicting human height by Victorian and genomic methods” Aulchenko:2009.

The premise is that Galton’s method of predicting stature from relatives still gives substantially better predictions than genotyping a collection of known variants that influence stature. It’s basically a restatement of the “missing heritability” problem in more concrete (and colorful) terms. Here’s a passage from the abstract:

For highly heritable traits such as height, we conclude that in applications in which parental phenotypic information is available (eg, medicine), the Victorian Galton's method will long stay unsurpassed, in terms of both discriminative accuracy and costs. For less heritable traits, and in situations in which parental information is not available (eg, forensics), genomic methods may provide an alternative, given that the variants determining an essential proportion of the trait's variation can be identified.

A great illustration. We know the trait is heritable, but the heritability is spread across many, many loci most of which remain unidentified. Hence, we can’t predict the stature well from genotypes.