Dorret Boomsma

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+31 20 59 88789
faculteit der gedrags- en bewegingswetenschappen ( biologische psychologie )

Twin studies

Professor Dorret Boomsma established the Netherlands Twin Register (NTR), which over the past 25 years has attracted over 75,000 twins and over 100,000 of their family members in the Netherlands (Netherlands Twin Register) and even abroad. Data collected in NTR projects form the basis for genetic studies of complex traits. The twins and their families have completed surveys, undergone periodic testing, and participated in large biobank projects, providing a wealth of longitudinal data for research into health and disease. A large number of participants have also provided DNA, blood and urine samples for testing. Boomsma’s research has primarily focused on a better understanding of the influence of the genome on physical and mental traits, including cognition and brain development, the development of behavioral and emotional problems in children, personality, psychiatric disorders in adults, migraine, cardiovascular diseases and metabolic syndrome. This work has been reported in over 700 published papers and has led to many awards. A book summarizing many of the results was published in 2008 (Tweelingonderzoek : Wat Meerlingen Vertellen Over De Mens).

Research: Background

Twin studies provide a unique way for understanding how genotypes affect observable traits and characteristics. In short, identical (monozygotic) twins carry nearly always the same alleles for 100% of their genes whereas fraternal (dizygotic) twins will carry different alleles at 50% of their segregating genes. So if a trait (say, depression) is observed in one identical twin and often in the co-twin as well, and if this does not hold for fraternal twins, then one can conclude that genetic factors play a role in the cause of the condition. Boomsma has been a pioneer in collecting a broad spectrum of data on health, medical history, IQ, MRI scans, personality and lifestyle from twins and their family members and analyzing them to determine the role of genetics. The results span a wide range of human characteristics, including discovery of the surprisingly large genetic component to feelings of loneliness, the fact that the heritability of IQ increases with age, the increased influence of genetics on body weight as children grow older, the heritability of ADHD in adults and the large contribution of the genome to cardiovascular risk factors. Studies increasingly make use of measured DNA variants, linking genetic markers to disease and health.


In 2008, the European Research Council (ERC) began awarding grants of about 2.5 million euro to the top scientists in Europe via a competition that covered all academic disciplines. 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. This project led major breakthroughs in ADHD research (thesis Maria Groen-Blokhuis), cognition and personality (thesis Sanja Franic) and epigenetics (Thesis Jenny van Dongen). Other important grants were awarded by NWO and ZonMW (Dutch funding agencies for scientific - medical research), Human Frontiers Science Program, National Institutes of Health (USA) and the European Commission (FP5: genomEUtwin; FP7: Engage). Much of the genotyping work has been funded through the NIH and NIMH (linkage scans: Marshfield Laboratories and GWA data through the GAIN and Grand Opportunity initiatives). In 2012 Boomsma was one of the PIs on the Consortium on “ Individual Development” (NWO Zwaartekracht) in the Netherlands.


Many research projects in genetics are part of large collaborative networks. Boomsma takes part in:

ENGAGE (Eu Network for Genetic and Genomic Epidemiology)

EAGLE(EArly Genetics and Lifecourse Epidemiology)

EGG (Early Growth Genetics)

PGC (Psychiatric Genomics Consortium)

GenomEUtwin (collaboration European and Australian Twin Registers)

CHARGE (Cohorts Heart and Aging Research in Genomic Epidemiology)

GIANT (Genetic Investigation of ANthropometric Traits)

MAGIC (Meta-Analyses Glucose and Insulin-related traits Consortium)

ENIGMA (Enhancing NeuroImaging Genetics through Meta-Analysis)

SSGAC (Social Science Genetics Association consortium)

IHGC (International Headache Genetics Consortium)

CARTA (Causal Analysis Research in Tobacco and Alcohol)

TAG (Tobacco and Genetics Consortium)

GSCAN (GWAS & Sequencing Consortium Alcohol and Nicotine use)

P3G (Public Population Project in Genomics and Society)

Geneqol-consortium (Genetic research into quality of life)

CHIC(Childhood Intelligence Consortium)

CRP (C reactive protein) / HaemGen / ReproGen / Personality Genetics Consortium

BBMRI –EU (Biobanking Biomolecular Resources Research Infrastructure)

BBMRI –NL including:

GoNL (Genome of the Netherlands)

NBIC (Netherlands Bioinformatics Centre)

CMSB (Centre for Medical Systems Biology)     

CID (Zwaartekracht Consortium Individual Development)     

NCHA (Netherlands consortium for healthy ageing)

NCA (Neuroscience Campus Amsterdam)

EMGO+ (Extramuraal Geneeskundig Onderzoek / Institute for Health and Care Research)


Complex Trait Genetics (MA, PhD and post-graduate level)

Molecule to Mind (MA level)

Behavior Genetics (BA, graduate level)

Personality theory (BA level)

Psychiatric Genetics (BA)

International Workshops Genetic Methodology (Europe/USA), annually 1987 – 2013 (current), alternating between genetic epidemiology and gene finding.

Supervision of PhD projects (in italics are now full professors themselves)

1. CV Dolan: Biometric decomposition of phenotypic means in human samples VU 1992

2. EJCG van den Oord: A genetic study of problem behaviors in children. EUR 1993

3. W Meulemans: The genetics of dizygotic twinning, Univ. Leuven, 1994

4. CEM van Beijsterveldt:The genetics of electrophysiological indices of brain activity. UvA/VU 1996

5. H Snieder: Genetic epidemiology of risk factors for coronary heart disease. VU 1996

6. FV Rijsdijk: The genetics of neural speed. VU 1997

7. GCM van Baal: A genetic perspective on the developing brain. VU 1997

8. JR Koopmans: The genetics of health-related behaviors. VU 1997

9. JC Van der Valk: The genetic and environmental contributions to children’s problem behaviors. EUR 2001

10. D Posthuma: Genetic variation and cognitive ability. VU 2002

11. M vd Berg: Mediating factors in the association of anxious depression and cardiovascular disease. VU 2002

12. M Bartels: Genetic influences behavioral, cognitive and hormonal characteristics during childhood.VU 2003

13. MJH Rietveld: Heritability of cognitive abilities and of attention problems. VU 2003

14. M Beekman: Towards mapping QTLs influencing lipid metabolism in human twins. LUMC 2004

15. R IJzerman: Birth weight, microvascular function and cardiovascular risk factors. VU 2004

16. JM Vink: A twin-family study of smoking behavior. VU 2004

17. N Kupper: Heritability of cardiovascular risk factors in a real life setting. VU 2005

18. C Middeldorp: Genetic factors and life events in the development of anxiety and depression. VU 2006

19. J Stubbe: The genetics of exercise behavior and well-being. VU 2006

20. I Rebollo:Type AAA Personality Pattern: Anger, Type A and Aggressive Behavior. VU 2006

21. E Derks: Assessment and genetics of attention problems, hyperactivity and related disorders. VU 2006

22. T Polderman, Genetics of attention and executive functioning. VU 2007

23. R Hoekstra, Autistic traits, withdrawn behaviour and cognition. VU 2007

24. D Smit, A genetic perspective on electrophysiological measures of brain function, VU 2007

25. MF Gosso, Common genetic variants underlying cognitive ability. VU 2008

26. EAP Poelen, The role of genes and environment in adolescents’ and young adults’ alcohol use. RU 2008

27. D van Grootheest, Genetic and environmental architecture of obsessive-compulsive symptoms. VU 2008

28. J Peper,The early pubertal brain: work in progress.A study on genetic and hormonal influences. UMC 2008

29. M van Leeuwen, A study of cognition in pre-adolescent twins. VU 2008

30. M de Moor, Exercise behavior and mental health: A genetic perspective. VU 2009

31. C Hoekstra, Dizygotic Twinning. VU 2009

32. M Distel,Individual Differences in Borderline Personality Traits. A genetic perspective. VU 2009

33. L Ligthart,Genetics of Migraine. VU, 21-10-2010 (Boomsma)

34. N van der Aa, Causes of Variation in Adolescent Wellbeing. VU 20-01-2011

35. F Estourgie-Burk, Variation In Growth And The Influence Of Early Growth In Later Life. VU 2011

36. R Slof,Genetic Determinants of Eating Disorders. LUMC, 28-06-2011 (Slagboom & Boomsma)

37. I van Soelen, Genetic and environmental influence on structural brain development and cognition. VU 2011

38. S Robbers:The development of children's problem behaviors. EUR 2012

39. A den Braber:Genetic & Environmental risk factors for Obsessive‐Compulsive Symptoms. VU 2012

40. L Geels:A developmental perspective on the etiology of alcohol use and comorbid traits. VU 2013

41. J van Beek: Genetics of alcohol use and liver enzymes. VU 2013

42. D Lamb: Risk factors for childhood problem behavior: studies in twins and triplets. VU 2013

43. M Groen-Blokhuis:Keeping focus: a study on Attention Problems in the GWAS era. VU 2014

44. A Abdellaoui: Behavior ↔ Genetics. VU 2014

45. S Franic: From Structural Equation Models to Next-Generation Sequencing VU 2014

Curriculum vitae

   Dorret I. Boomsma (female)

Date of birth: November 18, 1957

Place of birth: Huizen, The Netherlands

Marital status: Married, 1 daughter (DOB 1989)

Title: Professor

Present Position: Head of Department; Dept Biological Psychology, VU Univ


InstitutionDegree    Year        Field of study
W. de Zwijgerlyceum BussumGymnasium β1976Greek, Dutch, English, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, History
VU University AmsterdamBA (cum laude)1979Psychology
VU University Amsterdam--Philosophy
VU University AmsterdamMA (cum laude)1983Psychophysiology
University of Colorado, USAMA1983Biological Psychology/Behavior Genetics
VU University AmsterdamPhD (cum laude)1992Quantitative Genetics                            

Thesis: Quantitative Genetic Analysis of Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Twins and their Parents

Supervisors: Prof. JF Orlebeke (VU), prof. PC Molenaar (UvA)


1984-1985Statistician (Dept of Dental Surgery, VU University Amsterdam )
1985-1990Researcher, Genetics of Cardiovascular Risk Factors, VU University Amsterdam )
1990-1994UD (Assistant professor, Dept of Psychonomics, VU University Amsterdam )
1994-1997UHD (Associate professor, Dept of Psychonomics, VU University Amsterdam)
1998-presentFull professor (Biological Psychology, VU University Amsterdam )
Head of department (Biological Psychology, VU University Amsterdam )

Awards and honors:

1985Thompson Award (awarded by BGA: Behavior Genetics Association)
1996Junior-Heymans Award (awarded by Dutch Psychological Association)
2001Member KNAW (Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences)
2001Member Koninklijke Hollandsche Maatschappij der Wetenschappen 
2002Spinoza Prize (awarded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research). This is the highest scientific award in the Netherlands  
The Prize is a personal award for top researchers, which is given for “excellent national and international accomplishments, and inspiring leadership”
2002James Shield Award (awarded by the International Society for the Study of Twins)
2008ERC Established Investigator
2009Dr Hendrik Muller Prize for Behavioural and Social Sciences
2011NARSAD established investigator
2011KNAW Merian Prize
2012Elected as Member of the Academia Europaea
2013Dobzhansky Award for lifetime achievement in Behavior Genetics (awarded by BGA)
2014KNAW Akademiehoogleraar: lifetime achievement award



LIST OF ALL PUBLICATIONS (or visit for the most up to date list)

Ancillary activities

Int. Socity for Twin Studies - Unknown USA, 01 januari 1983
K. Hollandsche Maatschappij der Wetenschappen - Unknown Haarlem, 01 januari 2002
KNAW - Unknown Amsterdam, 01 januari 2002
Avond van Wetenschap en Maatschappij - Unknown Amsterdam, 01 januari 2006
Gezondheidsraad/ beraadsgroep genetica - Unknown Den Haag, 01 januari 2008
Engage Steering Board Publication An - Unknown Engeland, 01 januari 2009
Heineken Young Scientists Award - Unknown Amsterdam, 01 januari 2010
Behavior Genetics Association - Unknown USA, 02 januari 2014
Last changes Ancillary activities: Amsterdam 27 januari 2017