All About Genes

by Alexander Griffin

Gene as a word seems so typical and scientific and tricky. Well, it is for sure all of those traits. Though the book “The Gene“ by Siddhartha Mukherjee breaks it down in what a layman can understand and should understand as it’s something directly related to his or her evolution. And we have many examples in history when this lack of scientific knowledge on gene study led to mass killings and sterilizations of millions.

Introduction to Genes

Austrian botanist Gregor Johann Mendel in 1864 noticed that parent plants passed on specific traits (tallness) to the next generation of pea plants intact – that is, with the traits unaltered. Mendel had discovered is that hereditary information – the trait of tallness, for example, is passed down from generation to generation in indivisible units. Mendel had unveiled the smallest building block of heredity, the gene.

Some years later Dutch botanist Hugo De Vries revived Mendel’s earlier work and was able to merge his ideas on genetics with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. The three scientists who we can actually call the father of the study of genes are namely Austrian botanist Gregor Johann Mendel, Dutch botanist Hugo De Vries and Charles Darwin.

Theories Related to Species Evolution

Mendel’s heredity work perfectly complemented Darwin’s theory. The work of these three scientists combined to form a complete picture of species evolution. Nature produces random variations in traits that are then passed to offspring, and naturally selected over time as some offspring survive, and others die.

These theories, in The Gene, paved the way for many more theories to come in the future. In the 1940s, biochemists began examining the workings of cells. In the nucleus of the cell, they discovered certain molecules – DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and its close relative, RNA (ribonucleic acid). Both acids consist of four components, known as bases. DNA’s bases include adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G), and thymine (T). RNA’s bases are identical, except instead of thymine, RNA has uracil (U). With the discovery of DNA, scientists had finally found the building blocks of genes. The different genes formed a particular trait, not each singularly. Each had a duty but only performed when together.

Next came up the 1970s successful experiment of recombinant DNA which was discovered in the process of speeding up the evolutionary process. This later came to be known as Gene Cloning. Through gene cloning, the biochemists had created a new life form, one that didn’t exist in the natural world!

By the 1960s, for example, doctors could diagnose if a baby had a certain genetic syndrome in utero, that is, during gestation (before a child is born). However, other genetic diseases aren’t so simple to identify. But this challenge was also soon countered to a great extent by the 2000s. The goal of this project was to sequence the entire human genome essentially drawing a map of the more than 20,000 genes that make up human DNA!

Genes to Determine the Origin

The amazing study of “genes” also led us to our roots of where we are from, as per The Gene. Research has shown that less than 100,000 years ago, all humans lived on the African continent. Certain groups then migrated, with some tribes eventually becoming white Europeans.

With the successful completion of the Human Genome Project. Distantly related people share variations, but not as many. From this simple principle, scientists have measured the degree to which people from opposite sides of the world are related. In doing so, researchers have found that the oldest human populations are the San Tribes of South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana and the Mbuti Pygmies of the Congolese Ituri forest.

From the book The Gene, we get to know that from its modest beginnings, the field of genetics and the study of genes has shaped the study of medicine and biology, allowing researchers to make extraordinary leaps in understanding and we only look forward to the countless possibilities.

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