According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one in 50 school aged children in the United States have some form of Autism. As these statistics continue to rise, researchers have been hard at work trying to find a cause for the disorder.
For the most part, researchers have been battling a nature vs. nurture argument for some time. Some believe that autism springs from environmental causes, while a larger camp believes that the disorder is rooted in genetics.
But researchers at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) have uncovered compelling evidence that is strongly in favor of genetics being the cause of autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
For the study, the researchers at CSHL studied mutations of genes that develop in the beginning of a child’s life — these are called “de novo likely gene-disruptive mutations,” or LGDs. The researchers studied how these LGDS occurred, and furthermore, how these genes become vulnerable and contribute to the development of ASD.
So far, LGDs have been a leading contributing factor in the development of ASD in the eyes of many autism researchers.
In addition to their vulnerabilities, researchers also investigated how these gene-disruptions were passed on from generation to generation.
Interestingly enough, researchers found that the mutated genes that usually lead to the development of these autism spectrum disorders are actually less mutated than the majority of other human genes. This is surprising, considering the widely accepted notion is that the more mutated a gene is, the more it affects a person’s health.
Ivan Iossifov, biologist and assistant professor at CSHL, believes he has an answer. Usually, individuals with severe autism don’t tend to reproduce. This stops the gene from mutating any further and from being passed down.
Given this knowledge, the researchers were able to discern which LGD genes can be considered “autism genes” and which are not. They have now narrowed the list down from 500 genes to 200 genes.