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Posted on: July 8, 2015 at 10:21 pm
Last updated: September 21, 2017 at 10:36 pm

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Genes are the building blocks of life. They are behind your hazel eyes, your penchant for music, and your petite frame. Recently, science has learned that genes do not only influence our physical appearance but also play a role in our likeliness to develop certain health conditions.

There is a reason why your neighbors constantly mistake you for your older brother: genes. Genes act as a set of instructions that determine what an organism will look like and how they will behave. Genes lie in strands of DNA known as chromosomes, and each individual gene consists of a long combination of different chemical bases. It’s these combinations which determine whether you will have blue eyes or brown, or curly hair or straight.

Certain genetic mutations can make individuals more susceptible to specific diseases and health conditions than the general population. These genes and mutations are passed down through generations, which is why certain diseases and health problems can run in families. Innovations in genetics have allowed geneticists to learn even more about the human genome, and have revealed that conditions that were once played off as a result of lifestyle choices or poor luck were actually predetermined from birth.

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1. Obesity

Although it is true that obesity is the result from the combination of too little exercise and too much food, recent research has suggested that your genetic makeup may also play a role in the health condition. While obesity is a truly complex health condition caused by a number of factors, a 2014 study identified the gene IRX3 as a strong genetic factor. The gene controls body mass and regulates body composition. And as recently discovered, when this gene was removed in animal studies, mice weighed around 30 percent less than those who still had the gene.

“IRX3 is probably a master regulator of genetic programs in the cells where it is expressed,” explained Marcelo Nobrega, senior author of the study, last year. “We’re interested in what its targets are and what they alter. The goal is to identify downstream targets of IRX3 that become models for drug targeting.”

2. Sleepwalking

Sleepwalking is a fairly common behavior that CBS reported around 3.6 percent of U.S. adults experience regularly. An astonishing 30 percent of people admit to have experienced at least once in their lifetime.

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According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleepwalking, also known as somnambulism, involves walking or performing complex behaviors during deep sleep. Most sleepwalkers are completely unaware of their activities during their nighttime stroll.

Although sleepwalking is more common in children than adults, a recent study found that children are far more likely to sleepwalk if their parents also sleepwalked during their childhood. The prevalence of sleepwalking was 22.5 percent among children whose parents did not sleepwalk, compared to 47.4 percent of children with one sleepwalking parent and 61.5 percent of children with two sleepwalking parents.

“These findings point to a strong genetic influence on sleepwalking and, to a lesser degree, sleep terrors,” wrote the authors in their conclusion.

3. Breast Cancer

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Recently, doctors have discovered that individuals with specific genetic mutations are at greater risk for developing some forms of cancer than the general population.

“Knowing the key genes that significantly increase cancer risk and having precise cancer risk estimates ultimately could help assess the breast cancer risk for each woman and allow better targeting or surveillance,” said Dr. Antonis Antoniou, from the Centre for Cancer Genetic Epidemiology at the University of Cambridge, in a statement.

Two of the most well-known cancer-related genes are BRCA1 and BRCA2 — genes that significantly increase a woman’s chances of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Angelina Jolie helped to raise awareness of the dangers of this genetic mutation after she went public with her decision to undergo a double mastectomy.

While BRCA1 and BRCA2 may be the most well-known genetic mutations associated with breast cancer, they are far from the only ones. According to research conducted by the PALB2 Interest Group, one out of every three women carrying a mutation of the PALB2 gene are at risk of developing breast cancer by the time they reach the age of 70.

4. Learning Disabilities

Until recently, individuals with learning disabilities were often regarded as simply less intelligent. Today, although we are better able to recognize the existence of learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, many individuals affected by it often go undiagnosed well into high school. Recent research into the genetic predisposition of learning disorders may help solve this problem by making early intervention easier than ever before.

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A 2014 study found that variants of the DCD2 gene were responsible for both dyslexia and language impairment, and those who had certain variants of the gene had a “substantially increased likelihood of developing dyslexia or language impairment,” explained Dr. Jeffrey R. Gruen, lead researcher of the study, in a press release.

5. Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a debilitating chronic disease that, according to the National Institutes of Health, affects seven percent of individuals aged 18 or older. Symptoms of alcoholism include having a preoccupation with alcohol, an inability to control consumption, and continuing these behavior despite them causing problems.

Throughout history, alcoholism has commonly been perceived as a sign of personal weakness and inability to control indulgences, but recent research suggests that the problem may have biological roots.

Research into “alcohol genes” revealed that individuals with alcohol use disorders often share a number of genetic mutations that set them apart from the general population. For example, a 2014 study found that a specific mutation of the GRM3 gene, found in one of every 200 people was specifically linked to alcoholism. Another study found that a mutation of another gene, Nf1, was strongly tied to alcohol dependency in adults.

Despite these interesting finds, the NIH reports that genetics alone do not predict whether or not an individual will grow up to have a dependency on alcohol. Instead, alcoholism seems to be the result of a complex combination of both genetics and environmental influences.

This article was republished with permission from Medical Daily you can find the original article here.

Image Source: http://www.bethelcollege.edu/magazine/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Krakes1.jpg

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