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What are genes and why are they important for health?

In this video. watch Chiara provide an overview of genes and their function, and why they are important for health.

Watch Chiara provide an overview of genes and their function.

What are genes?

Genes are units of inheritance and are responsible for carrying genetic information from one generation to another. This means you inherit your genes from both your mother and father (and they inherit it from their mother and father and so forth) and the information stored in your genes is what makes you – you.

Genes are sections of DNA, and one whole copy of DNA includes all the genes to make instructions for you. DNA provides the instructions to turn a one-cell embryo into a 100 trillion – cell (yes that is how many cells are in your body) adult. These instructions include how the body deals with and responds to pathogens, specific foods, pollutants and other elements of your environment.

Genes mostly hold instructions to make proteins in the body.

This is important for health as proteins and enzymes are involved in many body processes. If individuals either lack the genes or have faulty genes coding, instructions for certain proteins or enzymes then this may have detrimental effects on health.

99.9% of all our genetic material is identical in humans, which is what identifies us as a species. The 0.1% of our genetic material is different from person to person is what makes each person unique (causing differences in things like our metabolic rate, hair and eye colour, height and also our nutrition needs).

These differences between people are called gene variations or polymorphisms.

Gene variations are important to consider when thinking about health. Some gene variations may cause rare diseases (and are often referred to as mutations), while others are more common (and are just described as polymorphisms).

Gene mutations and polymorphisms may interact with other genes and with factors in our environment (including diet, smoking, physical activity etc), to play a role in the development of complex diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, asthma, cardiovascular disease.

Find out more

You can access a link to a guide produced by the National Human Genome Research Institute article that provides an overview of the human genome.

This article is from the free online

Food as Medicine

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