What are genes?
Each living organism has genes - the working subunits of a DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid, a chemical that appears in long strands). Genes are set of instructions that determine what we are like, how we survive, and how we behave in our environment. Our body is composed of cells and each cell has the same DNA. However, each person has different DNA and this is what makes us unique from each other. Our genes make up what we are. It decides how tall are we going to be, the color of our hair and skin, whether we are good at sports, how we respond to environmental stimuli, what we look like inside and outside, and whether we are more likely to develop certain diseases. This is why some people are more prone to develop cancer and other diseases compared to others.
Genes and Diseases
A lot of causes of diseases can be traced back in our genes. Genes encode proteins which determine how well we process foods, how we successfully detoxify poisons in the body, and how briskly our body responds to infection. According to recent reports, more than 4 000 diseases have their roots in mutated genes which can be inherited one of the parents. Heart disease and most cancers come up from a complex interaction among a number of genes and between genes as well as the factors in the environment.
There are genes found in certain people and significantly raises their chances of acquiring certain diseases. A good example of this is the gene BRCA1, a gene that increases a woman's risk of developing breast cancer. In the modern world, it is already possible for a woman to undergo a test to know if she carries that gene. BRCA1 carriers have 50% possibility to pass this anomaly to their children.
A genetic disease is any disease brought about by abnormality in a person's genes. This abnormality can vary from minute to major. Most genetic disorders are being passed from the parents, while some are caused by acquired genetic changes or mutations. Mutations happen at random or due to triggers in the environment.
Defective genes that are inherited include the following modes:
Single gene inheritance. This type of inheritance results from mutations or changes in the DNA sequence of only one gene. Examples of these disorders include cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, Huntington's disease and hemachromatosis.
Multifactorial inheritance. This is caused by a combination of environmental factors and multiple genes mutation. Most chronic diseases are caused by the mutation of many genes. Some examples of these diseases are heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, hypertension, arthritis, diabetes and cancer.
Chromosome abnormalities. Chromosomes are located in the nucleus of each cell. They carry the genetic material, thus, abnormalities in the number or structure of the chromosome can result in disease. Abnormalities usually occur during cell division. Down syndrome is one example.
Mitochondrial inheritance. This is caused by mutations in the mitochondria, which are small rod-like organelles responsible for cell respiration. Only egg cells (not sperm cells) keep their mitochondria during fertilization, so, the disorder is inherited from the female parent.
Hints and Tips
One cannot really choose what genes we want to inherit from our parents. However, we can employ some measures to equip ourselves with enough knowledge in order to be prepared and also minimize the effect of genetic mutations. Some clinics and hospitals already offer genetic counseling which provides information and support to individuals, who have, or may be at risk for, genetic diseases or disorders. A genetic testing may be followed after the counseling.
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