Unzip your genes - Debate being a victim of your genes

Join the discussion: If something is found to be highly heritable, does this mean I can't do anything about it? Am I simply a victim of my own genes?

By: Dr Rosa Hoekstra (Department of Life, Health & Chemical Sciences) , Dr Mark Hirst (Department of Life, Health & Chemical Sciences)

  • Duration 5 mins
  • Updated Thursday 24th March 2011
  • Introductory level
  • Posted under Biology
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If something is found to be highly heritable, does this mean I can't do anything about it? Am I simply a victim of my own genes?

Finding that something is genetic doesn't mean that nothing can be done about it.

Perhaps the best example is the genetic condition PKU. PKU is due to a gene fault; because of this faulty gene the body fails to produce an enzyme that is active in the liver. Not having this enzyme leads to the build up of a certain chemical, and this can in the long term lead to brain damage, and even to intellectual disability.

Fortunately, in developed countries like the UK, all newborn babies are screened for this disease. Children with PKU can be treated with a special diet, to avoid the symptoms of PKU from developing. So PKU is a 100% genetic disease. But the intervention - a special diet - is entirely environmental.

Perhaps a more subtle example is weight. Obesity is partly influenced by genes. However, this doesn't mean there is nothing you can do about your weight! A healthy diet and regular exercise are still the best way to keep fit.

What do you think?

If this has sparked your interest, why not join in the discussion by posting a response in the Comments section below?