Heritability review

1 minute read

Peter Visscher and colleagues present a long review paper on the concept and use of heritability in the current Nature Reviews Genetics.

Heritability allows a comparison of the relative importance of genes and environment to the variation of traits within and across populations. The concept of heritability and its definition as an estimable, dimensionless population parameter was introduced by Sewall Wright and Ronald Fisher nearly a century ago. Despite continuous misunderstandings and controversies over its use and application, heritability remains key to the response to selection in evolutionary biology and agriculture, and to the prediction of disease risk in medicine. Recent reports of substantial heritability for gene expression and new estimation methods using marker data highlight the relevance of heritability in the genomics era.

There's nothing particularly new here -- the "genomics" in the title doesn't amount to much beyond a discussion of how to estimate heritability from SNP-inferred relationships instead of pedigrees. But much that is old is worthwhile.

It reads like twelve pages out of Falconer -- if Falconer were in a new edition -- and if you don't have Falconer, well, you might do well to read these twelve pages. They include a box about the "heritability of IQ controversy" as well as a discussion of the basic mystery about heritability in natural populations -- why should additive genetic variance be as high as it is?


Visscher PM, Hill WG, Wray NR. 2008. Heritability in the genomics era -- concepts and misconceptions. Nature Rev Genet 9:255-266. doi:10.1038/nrg2322