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14 June 2012, 16:15

Free software maps twins to answer nature vs nurture

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Zoom spACE visualising twins traits
The spACE visualisation program has been developed by the Kings College London TEDS (Twins Early Development Study) team to help them see the variations in genetic and environmental influences across the UK. The project started using the birth records of over 15,000 twins born between 1994 and 1996, and regularly surveyed 45 childhood characteristics of the twins. Of the 13,000 pairs of twins still in the study they took DNA samples from more than 5,000. All this information has been used as raw data for the study which is then analysed in the hope of providing insight into how nature and nurture, genes and the environment, shape people generally.

The team created spACE, a geo-visualisation application, to help them make sense of the data by allowing them to view a red/blue map of how particular genetic or environmental attributes varied over a geographical area. The software also shows a histogram of the overall distribution of the trait. The software is available under the GPL3 on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.

spACE in action

The ability to view the nature/nurture maps has allowed the researchers to extract new insights. In a college news article, Dr Oliver Davies, a Sir Henry Wellcome Fellow at Kings, said that they "help us to spot patterns in the complex data, and to try to work out what’s causing these patterns. For our classroom behaviour example, we realised that one thing that varies more in London is household income. When we compare maps of income inequality to our nature-nurture map for classroom behaviour, we find income inequality may account for some of the pattern".


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