Behavioural genetics, Psychiatric genetics

Focus of research

I am a behavioural geneticist, interested in unravelling the roots of individual differences in human behaviour. I employ interdisciplinary research (combining population and quantitative genetics with psychiatry and evolutionary psychology) to solve fundamental questions about the etiology of substance use, psychiatric disorders and other human behaviour.

Mental health problems pose a strong burden on individual’s and their families’ lives as well as society as a whole. Not everyone is similarly likely to develop mental health problems. I investigate how genetic favctors play a role in individuals’ vulnerability to mental health problems. To this end I have performed twin studies to estimate the heritability of substance use as well as other mental health problems. More recently, I started using information from measured DNA variants to perform genome-wide association studies in order to identify genes that play a role in cannabis use, personality traits, and sexual behaviour. Notably, I am one of the PIs of the International Cannabis Consortium, a large collaborative project (with more than 180,000 participants from ~20 contributing cohorts) aimed at identifying genes associated with cannabis use.

Another focus of my research is the complex comorbidity between different traits. We know from my own and other previous studies that there is high comorbidity between different mental health problems and that health problems are associated with SES and educational attainment. With statistical genetics methodology I investigate the nature of these associations, to provide a better understanding of the complex comorbidity.

I also combine evolutionary theories with statistical genetics methodology, for example by looking at the effects of inbreeding, the maintenance of genetic variation in sexual orientation and in personality, and at how genetics plays a role in how many children and grandchildren we have and of what sex they are.