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No evidence for social genetic effects or genetic similarity among friends beyond that due to population stratification: a reappraisal of Domingue et al (2018)

By Loic Yengo, Morgan Sidari, Karin J.H. Verweij, Peter M. Visscher, Matthew C. Keller, Brendan P. Zietsch

Posted 21 May 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/643304 (published DOI: 10.1007/s10519-019-09979-2)

Using data from 5,500 adolescents from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, Domingue et al. (2018) claimed to show that friends are genetically more similar to one another than randomly selected peers, beyond the confounding effects of population stratification by ancestry. The authors also claimed to show "social-genetic" effects, whereby individuals' educational attainment (EA) is influenced by their friends' genes. Neither claim is justified by the data. Mathematically we show that 1) although similarity at causal variants is expected under assortment, the genome-wide relationship between friends (and similarly between mates) is extremely small (an effect that could be explained by subtle population stratification) and 2) significant association between individuals' EA and their friends' polygenic score for EA is expected under homophily with no socio-genetic effects.

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