Reading ability could be influenced by a gene linked to dyslexia, according to a new Oxford University study.

New findings from more than 6,000 British children, aged seven to nine, have indicated that the faulty KIAA0319 gene may reduce general reading ability in people not suffering from dyslexia.

Dr Silvia Paracchini, from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at Oxford University, who led the research, said: "On average, people carrying this common genetic variant tended to perform poorly on tests of reading ability.

"However, it's important to note that this is only true for reading ability and not for IQ, so it doesn't appear to be connected to cognitive impairment."

The children taking part in the study were part of a wider investigation known as the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a research project at the University of Bristol.

In the tests, children were asked to read out loud 20 words of increasing difficulty.

Their performance was rated according to how long they took and how many mistakes they made.

Prof Margaret Snowling, vice president of the British Dyslexia Association, said: "The finding of a 'gene' associated with reading ability in the general population as well as in dyslexia is in line with our observation that there are degrees of dyslexia from mild to severe."

At least six genes have been identified that might be involved in dyslexia, but the most likely candidate is KIAA0319, which is carried by 15 per cent of the population.

Dyslexia disrupts the development of literacy and language skills but has no impact on general intelligence.