Genetics and health

Have you ever wondered why members of the same family look similar? This is because blood relatives have a large number of the same genes in common. Genes are the code that controls the body. We each have thousands of genes carried on 23 pairs of chromosomes in our cells. Our genes control our eye colour, our hair colour, the size of our feet and hands and much more!

Genes are passed on from parents to children. We all carry two copies of each gene, one inherited from our father and one from our mother.

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Our understanding of genes and how they affect our health is rapidly developing. People who are well-informed about genetics and their own risks are in a better position to make decisions for themselves and their families.

What are genetic disorders?

Sometimes genes become changed (mutated) so that they do not carry the correct information and this may mean that the body’s cells do not function properly.

These unusual, changed genes may cause disorders and disabilities that are passed on from parents to children; these are called genetic or inherited disorders.

There are several types of inherited, genetic disorder.

Some disabilities and disorders occur when just one gene in the pair is changed (inherited from either the mother or the father) these are called dominant disorders.

In some cases, however, an individual must inherit the changed gene from both the mother and the father for the disorder to occur. These are called recessive disorders. If an individual has just one such changed gene she or he will appear healthy, even though she or he ‘carries’ one changed gene. We call someone who has just one changed gene a ‘healthy carrier’.

Most people carry at least one changed gene for a recessive disorder, though we tend not to be aware of this as it does not affect our health in any way.

Genetic disorders affect all communities and can cause children to die or have life-long disability.

There are thousands of different genetic disorders, however most are very rare.

More information on genetics and health is available at:

http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Genetics/Pages/Introduction.aspx

 

* By Roger Lacerda (Comunidade Vida Missão) [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons