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Jeans and Genes: Making sense of your biological ‘style’

Jeans and Genes: Making sense of your biological ‘style’

The type of jeans that you decided on wearing this morning gave you your own style for the day.  The same happens with the genes in your cells, except you don’t get to decide which genes you ‘wear’ on a daily-basis. Genes have the instructions for your body’s ‘style’, for example they are responsible for that annoying and slightly larger-than-needed nose, or the reason you could be prone to putting on those extra pounds! Just like the jeans we wear though; our biological genes can be on or off. If they are ‘on’ we outwardly wear them (and will be prone to gaining the extra pounds), and if they are ‘off’ we will be less prone (hurrah!). The thing is, for every likelihood, whether it be a body part or a disease, we inherit one gene from our mother and one gene from our father. These two inherited genes are variations of each other. For example, one variation could be the in-fashion skinny jean, and the other is those 70s flares.  However, there are plenty more variations out there (don’t forget the three-quarter lengths!).  In science these gene variations are called ‘alleles’. Depending on what’s in the genetic wardrobe of your mother and father, their ‘collection’ will provide your cells with two optional ‘outfits’ for each gene. So, which do you get to ‘wear’?

Whether it be flares, skinny genes or even the classic straight cut, at the moment one of these styles of jeans is ‘in-fashion’. You could call the in-fashion jeans ‘dominant’ compared to the other jeans on the market, classified as ‘recessive’ (…if biologists ran the fashion industry and thank goodness they don’t!). Our biological genes work on the same principle. If your mum provided you with a dominant gene variation, and your dad provided you with a recessive variation… well your mum’s will win, and you will produce a ‘dominant trait’ (hello skinny jeans…!). However, if both of your parents provide you with a recessive variant … then you will possess two recessive variants. So, what happens then?  Nothing is dominant. Well, because there are two recessive variants, and no competitive or dominant genes around, the recessive variants team up. This will result in you producing a ‘recessive trait’ (those 70s flares unfortunately…). That all seems quite straight forward, so let’s explore our biological sense of style a little bit more.

So, what we’ve established is that you have your genes which are inherited from your parents and then you ‘wear’ them to produce traits e.g. blue eyes? Well, not quite. You see, the genes you possess are more like the prototype for the factories (your cells) which then produce the real traits you ‘wear’ and see every day. When these prototypes are examined by the factories, they are then understood and sewn (translated) into proteins that can be the ‘jeans’ you outwardly wear. This is why there can be some complications. Firstly, whichever gene we inherit (dominant or recessive), and go on to ‘wear’, can include mistakes or variations which could lead to disease. For example, if your mother provides you the PAPA syndrome gene variant (which is dominant and leads to early-on-set arthritis), you will develop the syndrome. Unlike a factory that produce the non-biological jeans, we can’t send these prototypes back. Therefore, we are stuck with these genetic outfits. Secondly, just like a factory producing clothes, the input (or prototype) might be perfect but during the development of the product, sewing, and intricacies of the production-line …there’s a lot of space for things to go wrong! Therefore, between the prototype (gene stage) and the gene-product (protein stage) … there is a lot of potential for error. This could lead to certain proteins loosing integral parts of their design. This might be okay. For example, if you have a hole in your jeans technically you can wear them, they just aren’t fully functioning that’s all. However, in some rarer case, the mistakes our cell-factories make down the production-line could be detrimental, leaving proteins redundant and un-workable. Think, if the jeans produced in the fashion industry were redundant, the clothing line would go bust and knock-on effects are incurred, and this is exactly what our cells are liable to.

At Dante we are able to find the dominant and recessive variants in your genes and using high-tech and reliable machinery, we can then pick out the faults in you prototype-like genes. Yes, you cannot change the prototype (…maybe one day we will be able to!), but with the knowledge you will be able to adapt your life style to prevent certain dieses from developing, understand why you might be exhibiting ‘un-explainable symptoms’, and create health-care plans for your future. This can empower you to work on your own ‘factory pipe-line’ to avoid unnecessary product flaws you might otherwise be prone to.

So, Dante would just like to say, well done for making it through that biology class! Now you know the theory, it only makes sense to get on with the practical and order your kit!