Science, Maths & Technology

Unzip your genes - Debate the influences on characteristics

Updated Thursday 24th March 2011

Join the discussion: So there are genetic and environmental influences on our characteristics. But is it really that simple? Perhaps our genes can influence our environment, or vice versa?

So there are genetic and environmental influences on our characteristics. But is it really that simple? Perhaps our genes can influence our environment, or vice versa?

For the purpose of the quiz we have kept it quite straightforward and focused on the relative influences of genes and environment separately. But the more research we do, the more we know that most of our characteristics aren't simple at all! Most of our traits are complex, and influenced by many different genes and many different environmental influences.

Some influences of what we perceive to be 'environmental' actually also have a genetic component. You may have thought of smoking as an environmental component, but whether people quit smoking or persist in their behavior is actually strongly influenced by their genes.

Genes can interact with each other. For example, if gene A contributes a 2% risk, gene B a 3% risk, together they may contribute a higher risk than the simple sum of their risks. These gene-gene interactions are also studied in twin and family studies, but were not discussed in the quiz.

And to make things even more complex there may also be interactions between genes and environment. The effect of a particular environmental factor might depend on someone's genetic make-up. A traumatic life event may be especially influential for people who carry a particular gene variant that makes them susceptible to depression. Our understanding of how gene effects interact, and how gene and environmental factors interact is still relatively poor.

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?

 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

Science, Maths & Technology 

Integrated safety, health and environmental management: An introduction

Life is full of risk. In this free course, Integrated safety, health and environmental management: An introduction, 'risk' describes the probability and consequences of harm or, at worst, disaster. Risk management involves many stakeholders and integrated management systems help to ensure that safety, quality, environmental and business risks are all managed correctly. The course also looks at emergency preparedness, that is, the management of emergencies and disasters.

Free course
15 hrs

Science, Maths & Technology 

Unzip your genes - Debate specific gene disorders

Join the discussion: Is there a 'gene for autism', or an 'obesity gene'?

Article

Science, Maths & Technology 

Unzip your genes - Debate the gap in our understanding

Join the discussion: What might be the explanation for 'missing heritability'? What explains this gap in our understanding?

Article

What's On 

OU Lecture 2009: The fifth bridge

Dawkins explores the ideas of Darwin’s peers including Fleeming Jenkin and Sewall Wright, and discusses how close Darwin came to Mendelism.

Video
10 mins

Science, Maths & Technology 

Meiosis and mitosis

This free course, Meiosis and mitosis, looks at how units of inheritance are transmitted from one generation to the next. First you will look at what happens to the chromosomes of animals and plants during the process of sexual reproduction. Then you will examine how genes are transmitted in particular patterns from generation to generation. These two approaches combine to illustrate how the patterns of inheritance can be explained by the behaviour of chromosomes during sexual reproduction.

Free course
8 hrs

Science, Maths & Technology 

Angel Breed

Understand the basic rules of genetics and see if you can breed the rarest fish.

Activity

Science, Maths & Technology 

Gene testing

This free course, Gene testing, looks at three different uses of genetic testing: pre-natal diagnosis, childhood testing and adult testing. Such tests provide genetic information in the form of a predictive diagnosis, and as such are described as predictive tests. Pre-natal diagnosis uses techniques such as amniocentesis to test fetuses in the womb. For example, it is commonly offered to women over 35 to test for Down's syndrome. Childhood testing involves testing children for genetic diseases that may not become a problem until they grow up, and adult testing is aimed at people at risk of late-onset disorders, which do not appear until middle age. In addition, we address some of the issues involved in carrier testing, another predictive test. This involves the testing of people from families with a history of genetic disease, to find out who carries the gene, and who therefore might pass the disease onto their children even though they themselves are unaffected. Here the aim is to enable couples to make informed choices about whether or not to have children, and if so whether they might have a genetic disease studies 'proteins'. Starting with a simple analysis of the molecular make up, the course moves on to look at the importance of protein and how they are digested and absorbed.

Free course
4 hrs

Science, Maths & Technology 

Gene manipulation in plants

Genetic manipulation of crops is an issue of great current interest and controversy. This free course, Gene manipulation in plants, covers some of the basic science that underpins the debate and examines the hotly contested case study of the development of 'golden rice'. By looking at the science behind the headlines you will acquire a clearer idea of both what is possible in GM science and what may be considered desirable.

Free course
10 hrs

Science, Maths & Technology 

Bodies in love

Join Margi Clarke to investigate the science of love

Article