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Ever wonder how you got your “grandfather’s nose”? Or why you have curly hair like your mother and your brother doesn’t? Genes. They are the basic unit by which genetic information is passed on from parent to child. This is also called heredity. Genes are a part of DNA and people inherit them from both of their parents during reproduction. The ones they inherit will determine many things, like what a child will look like and whether they will have certain diseases.
Knowing what color of hair your child will have seems insignificant compared to knowing whether they will have a genetic disorder like Down’s syndrome.
Gregor Mendel is widely known as the person who founded the science of genetics, specifically by discovering the principles of heredity. Mendel was responsible for conducting a rigorous study on pea plants to understand how offspring inherited characteristics from their parents, and how these traits were passed on from generation to generation.
Humans grow and develop based on the instructions contained in our genetic material. Our body is made up of trillions of tiny cells. Almost every cell in our body has a nucleus, a sort of headquarters that contains our genes. Our mix of genes is unique to us—even our full brothers or sisters have a slightly different mix. Genes are instructions for building the parts of your body and doing the work that keeps you alive, from carrying oxygen to digesting to food and everything else we do.
The genes are grouped into collections called chromosomes. Most humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes. You got all of your genes from your parents. For each pair of their chromosomes, you get one chromosome from your mother and one from your father. When the egg and sperm cells come together, they create the full set of 46 chromosomes or 23 pairs.
A genetic mutation is a permanent alteration in a DNA sequence that makes up a gene and they are the main cause for diversity among organisms. A person can have a mutation in a gene that can cause many issues for them. Sometimes the changes can cause little differences like eye color. Other times the changes in genes can cause health problems. Mutations in a gene usually end up causing that particular gene copy to not do its job the way it normally should. Since we have two copies of every gene, typically there’s still a ‘normal’ working copy of the gene. In these cases, usually nothing out of the ordinary happens since the body can still do the jobs it needs to do.
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