Thursday, June 4, 2009

Interpreting Gene-Environment Interactions

Guest post from Jennifer Lansford, Associate Research Professor, Social Science Research Institute:

Sir Michael Rutter of King's College London provided a thought-provoking opening talk in the recent Center for Child and Family Policy conference “Gene-Environment Interactions in Developmental Psychopathology: So What?”

Professor Rutter, who has been described as the “father of child psychology,” focused on big-picture issues involved in the study of how genetic factors interact with environmental factors to shape developmental outcomes, especially mental disorders.
A gene-environment interaction occurs when a genetic risk factor leads to disorder only under certain environmental conditions or when adverse environmental conditions lead to disorder only for those individuals at genetic risk.

Professor Rutter’s talk was especially helpful in outlining the challenges involved in searching for and interpreting gene-environment interaction. One of the key challenges is that large samples that are conducive to searching for genetic effects are not well suited to in-depth study of environmental contexts, yet what is needed to understand gene-environment interactions is knowledge regarding how to discriminate both genetic and environmental risk.

See Rutter's talk in iTunes (31:55)

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