Scientists say they have developed a new DNA tool that uses machine learning to accurately predict people's height and assess their risk for serious illnesses such as heart disease and cancer. The tool, or algorithm, builds predictors for human traits such as height, bone density and even the level of education a person might achieve, purely based on one's genome, according to the research published in the journal Genetics.
"While we have validated this tool for these three outcomes, we can now apply this method to predict other complex traits related to health risks such as heart disease, diabetes and breast cancer," said Stephen Hsu from Michigan State University (MSU) in the US.
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Further applications have the potential to dramatically advance the practice of precision health, which allows physicians to intervene as early as possible in patient care and prevent or delay illness, researchers said.
The research analysed the complete genetic makeup of nearly 500,000 adults in the UK using machine learning, where a computer learns from data.
The computer accurately predicted everyone's height within roughly an inch.
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While bone density and educational attainment predictors were not as precise, they were accurate enough to identify outlying individuals who were at risk of having very low bone density associated with osteoporosis or were at risk of struggling in school.
Traditional genetic testing typically looks for a specific change in a person's genes or chromosomes that can indicate a higher risk for diseases such as breast cancer.
Hsu's model considers numerous genomic differences and builds a predictor based on the tens of thousands of variations.
Using data from the UK Biobank, an international resource for health information, Hsu and his team put the algorithm to work, evaluating each participant's DNA and teaching the computer to pull out these distinct differences.
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"The algorithm looks at the genetic makeup and height of each person," Hsu said.
"The computer learns from each person and ultimately produces a predictor that can determine how tall they are from their genome alone," Hsu said.