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Personal information

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Twin studies  

Professor Boomsma has built a database of over 75,000 twins and family members in The Netherlands, which has been used for dozens of twin studies. The twins and their families have undergone periodic testing over a period of decades, providing a mass of longitudinal data for statistical analysis. A large number of participants have also provided DNA, blood, and urine samples for testing. Her research has primarily focused on better understanding the influence of heredity on various physical and mental diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, pediatric bipolar disorder, and depression. This work has been reported in over 450 published papers and one book and has led to many awards for Boomsma.  

Research

Twin studies provide a way to understand how genotype affects an observable characteristic (called a phenotype). In short, identical (monozygotic) twins carry the same alleles for 100% of their genes whereas fraternal (dizygotic) twins will carry different alleles at 50% of the genes for which their parents had different genotypes. So if some characteristic (say, depression) that is observed in one identical twin is always observed in the other one, but this does not hold for fraternal twins, then one can conclude that heredity plays an important role in causing the condition. Boomsma has been a pioneer in collecting a broad spectrum of data (e.g., medical histories, IQ tests, MRI scans) and biological material (e.g., DNA and RNA samples, blood and urine samples) from thousands of twins and analyzing them to determine the role of genetics in characteristics as varied as adult height, brain volume, intelligence, migraine headaches, anxiety, drug addiction, and love of coffee. Her results span a wide range of behavioral characteristics, including discovery of the surprisingly large genetic component to feelings of loneliness, the fact that first borns have higher IQs than their younger siblings, and the increased influence of genetics on body weight as children grow older. 

European Research Council Advanced Grant

In 2008, the European Research Council began awarding grants of about 2.5 million euro (about $3.5 million) to the top scientists and scholars in Europe via a competition that covered all academic disciplines. Due to the large amount of money and complete lack of bureaucracy and restrictions, these were extremely competitive, with a very strong applicant pool and a 13% acceptance rate. Boomsma received one of the ERC grants for a project on the genetics of mental illness. Her research is focusing on three themes: Neuropsychiatric disorders (ADHD, anxiety, depression) and cognition Depression, anxiety, substance use, abuse, and dependence Depression, migraine, obesity, and cardiovascular disease The goal of this research is to use her twin database and biological specimens to try to determine which genes play a role in causing these conditions.  

Awards 

Dorret Boomsma has received numerous awards for her research. These include:

  • Behavior Genetics Association Thompson Award (1985)
  • Dutch Psychological Association Junior-Heymans Award (1996)
  • Membership in the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) (2001)
  • Spinoza Prize (NWO) (2001)
  • International Twin Society James Shield Award (2002)
  • Dr. Hendrik Muller Prize for Behavioural and Social Sciences (2009)
  • KNAW Merian Prize (2011)
  • Elected as Member Academia Europaea (2012)
  • Dobzhansky Award for lifetime achievement in Behavior Genetics (awarded by BGA) (2013)
  • KNAW Academy Professor (2014)