Scientists from University College London, the University of Oxford and King's College London used data from the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS) to analyse the influence of genetics on the reading and mathematics performance of 12-year-old children from nearly 2,800 British families.
Twins and unrelated children were tested for reading comprehension and fluency, and answered mathematics questions based on the UK national curriculum.
The information collected from these tests was combined with DNA data, showing a substantial overlap in the genetic variants that influence mathematics and reading.
"We looked at this question in two ways, by comparing the similarity of thousands of twins, and by measuring millions of tiny differences in their DNA," said first author Dr Oliver Davis from UCL Genetics.
"Both analyses show that similar collections of subtle DNA differences are important for reading and maths. However, it's also clear just how important our life experience is in making us better at one or the other.
"It's this complex interplay of nature and nurture as we grow up that shapes who we are," Davis said.
"This is the first time we estimate genetic influence on learning ability using DNA alone," said Professor Robert Plomin from King's College London, who leads the TEDS study.
"The study does not point to specific genes linked to literacy or numeracy, but rather suggests that genetic influence on complex traits, like learning abilities, and common disorders, like learning disabilities, is caused by many genes of very small effect size.
"The study also confirms findings from previous twin studies that genetic differences among children account for most of the differences between children in how easily they learn to read and to do maths," Plomin said.
The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.