Genetics: A One-Minute Explanation

DNA is a molecule that contains the instructions to make every living thing. DNA stores this information as a sequence of bases, represented by four letters (‘A’, ‘C’, ‘G’, and ‘T’). We inherit half our DNA from our dad and half from our mom.

A gene is a region of DNA that provides the “recipe” for making a protein. Proteins are essential and carry out most of the functions needed for us to live. Your own body adjusts the types and number of proteins it makes by turning certain genes “on” or “off." Scientists call this process gene expression. 

Genes exist in different versions in the human population. These are called genetic variants.  Your combination of variants is your genotype for that gene. Your genotype may affect how much protein a gene makes or how that protein acts in the body. These differences are the main reason we are all unique. They determine your height and eye color, and can even affect your risk of certain diseases, such as diabetes.

Research has linked thousands of variants with different traits and diseases. In most cases, lots of variants found in many genes act in combination to produce an effect.

But, your genotype is not the only important factor impacting your health! Many environmental factors such as your lifestyle and diet can influence gene expression. This allows you to take action today to improve your health tomorrow.

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