Robbie Wedow is an assistant professor and data scientist in the College of Liberal Arts at Purdue University. He uses genetic databases to study the interaction of genetic and social forces with the environment. According to Wedow, it is important to understand that these genes have absolutely no control over a person’s life or future. Each SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) has little effect on broader outcomes, such as educational attainment. The goal is to use a genetic approach to gain a better understanding of the complexity of human behavior. “Sociogenomics isn’t necessarily about biology, like some might think,” Wedow said. “When someone studies cancer genetics, they are studying it because they want to elucidate the biology of cancer; they want to figure out ways to better diagnose it, track it, and treat it. But researchers in the field of sociogenomics want to study genetics in order to do better social science. No one would ever study sociology without considering socioeconomic status and environment. We want to be able to take genetics into account in the same way."
But how will utilizing genetics help the field of sociology? Wedow and co-author Andrea Ganna of the University of Helsinki conducted a study that examined 109 survey questions to find out how people’s genes related to their responses. This addresses a longstanding challenge faced by the field of sociology, providing valuable insights that have eluded researchers for many years.