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Using your Research to Stay Healthy: Genetics

Although genealogy may just be an interesting hobby for some, for others it has a very important role-by researching your family, you can learn about your family's health history. This is especially important for people who have lost family information for as recently as one or two generations ago. Genetics are to blame for many common diseases and body traits, as well as some rare health problems, so by locating information about your ancestors, you can have a better understanding of your own health.

First, you need to understand a little about genetics and how you get specific traits from your parents, grandparents, and so on. Genetics is simply the study of heredity, done mostly by looking at your DNA. DNA is the building block of life, and it is a molecule made up by string four nucleotides together in a specific order. A piece of this string is called a gene. So, DNA is a sentence, genes are the words, and nucleotides are the letters.

DNA, in turn, combines to create chromosomes (like sentences create paragraphs), of which every person has 23 pairs (one from your mother and one from your father). Some genes are, in layman's terms, more powerful than others are, which is what determines if you inherit your mother's blue eyes or your father's brown eyes. To go back to the sentence analogy, think of your 23 pairs of chromosomes as two versions of a story. The more exciting version is the one that people want to hear, so the two stories are combined to create the best story possible, taking characteristics from both versions. During conception, you receive one "story" that is 23 paragraphs long from each parent, and your body develops by copying these 23 chromosomes over and over until your are formed. Remember that your mom and dad each have 23 pairs (one from their own mother and one from their own father), but they only pass on 23 single chromosomes to you, a naturally random process.

There are many different health problems that can be caused by your DNA, but generally, they fall into two categories. Multiple gene disorders occur when your parents both give you a defective copy of the same gene. Generally, defective genes are less powerful, so you only need one healthy gene to override the medical condition. However, single gene disorders are much more easily passed because the defective gene is more powerful than the healthy one. By researching your family history, you can find out what health problems you may have in your future and what you may pass on to your children.

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