25 May 1998

An Australian research team is part of an international consortium awarded a prestigious Human Frontier Science Program grant to study the inheritance of mental abilities.

The Australian team undertaking the cutting-edge research comprises scientists from the University of Queensland and Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR).

The consortium comprises research teams from Australia, the Netherlands and Japan. It will receive about A$1 million for a three-year collaborative study of the extent to which genetic inheritance determines individual differences in mental abilities.

Identical and non-identical twins and their siblings will be studied so that the effects of common genes as opposed to shared environment can be separated out.

Over the next three years, teams in each country will recruit more than 300 pairs of twins (half the group will be identical twins, half non-identical) to yield at least 900 twin pairs in the overall study.

The Human Frontier Science Program, based in France, aimed to promote basic interdisciplinary research into the complex mechanisms of living organisms through international co-operation, and to make the results available worldwide. It focuses on the two most rapidly advancing areas in human research, genetics and neuorscience.

This year only 12 percent of applications from a large and distinguished field of international researchers were successful.

Professor Nick Martin, a behavioural geneticist at QIMR, will lead the Australian team. The group includes University of Queensland researchers Professor Gina Geffen and Associate Professor Glen Smith (School of Psychology), Professor Laurie Geffen (Department of Psychiatry), PhD students Narelle Hansell (Psychology), Greg Hooper and Michelle Luciano (Psychiatry) and QIMR researchers Dr Margie Wright, Marlene Grace and Ann Eldridge.

This is the second Human Frontier Science award for Professors Gina and Laurie Geffen, who are co-directors of the University's Cognitive Psychophysiology Laboratory at Herston where the Australian twins will be tested.

They previously won an award in 1993 to study the brain mechanisms involved in working memory. In the new program, they will continue this work by studying individual differences in working memory abilities and the associated brain waves.

In the new study, the Dutch team will be led by Professor Dorret Boomsma from The Free University, Amsterdam, and the Japanese team will be led by Dr Juko Ando of Keio University, Tokyo.

Professor Martin said that by pooling results obtained with the same techniques, research team members would be better able to discriminate between similarities in mental abilities and brain activity due to shared family environment and those due to shared genes.

'Moreover, we shall have increased power for the long term objective of locating major genes for these cognitive abilities,' Professor Martin said.

Professor Laurie Geffen said a major reason for the proposal's international success was that team members had complementary skills in genetics, psychology and neuroscience.
The team leaders will meet in Stockholm in June to plan collaboration in more detail.

For further information, contact Professor Laurie Geffen, telephone 07 3365 5459 or Dr Wright, telephone 07 3362 0225.