DNA Support

DNA Support / Genetics

Understanding how the make-up of your genes affects your health is now a major scientific research area which is proving of great benefit to doctors and their patients.

Your genes are found inside 23 pairs of chromosomes and many people opt for genetic tests because mutations in these genes can increase the risk of inheriting a serious illness.

Why are genes so important?

Your genes are controlled by a long molecule in two coiled strands called deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) which stores all your body’s genetic information.

The Human Genome Project, involving thousands of scientists around the world, is mapping the immense amount of information in each of the human body’s cells.

Since the project began, it has helped to identify how faults in DNA could heighten the risk of serious conditions such as muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis and Down’s syndrome.

DNA is also used to assess a child’s natural parents by taking samples from mother, father and child. Such information may now be used as a paternity test for legal reasons.

How is genetic testing carried out?

To assess any genetic risks, testing involves taking a blood or tissue sample.

To discover whether you or your children are more likely to inherit any specific genetic conditions, the DNA code will then be examined for any faults.

The risk of these mutations causing a serious condition depends on:

  • which genes you inherit
  • whether a gene is dominant or recessive
  • your living environment

Recessive and dominant gene

Recessive and dominant genes are linked in different ways to different genetic conditions.

If a child inherits certain recessive faulty genes from its father and mother, it could be at risk of cystic fibrosis. By contrast, only one parent needs to pass on a certain dominant gene for your child to be at risk of type 1 neurofibromatosis.

Also, if there is a mutation on one X chromosome, this may not affect females because they have two such chromosomes, but it may cause a male child to inherit muscular dystrophy or haemophilia as males only have one X chromosome.

Gene Mutation

Your living environment may also be a factor because your DNA is constantly being damaged by normal processes and natural chemicals such as water and oxygen, radiation and sunlight. Lifestyle choices, such as smoking, can also cause cells to mutate. Such damage is usually repaired, but sometimes can cause a mistake being made when the DNA is copied.

Mutations can therefore have a positive or a negative effect so no assumptions can be made about the actual genetic risks even after you have rigorous genetic testing.

However, if you are aware there is a history of certain conditions in your family, such as Down’s syndrome or muscular dystrophy then genetic tests may be the first step towards discovering more information about the risks.

An awareness of the risks may also encourage you to live a healthier lifestyle to reduce the factors which contribute to serious health conditions.

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