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Genetics 101

Genetics 101


Even though genetics is a topic that comes up in high school science, many people graduate without retaining much of that knowledge. Despite its complexity, genetics is an important topic to know and understand. The more you learn about genetics, the easier it will be to recognize how these factors affect the unique aspects of your health, appearance, personality, and behavior – including your eating habits.

 

One of the most interesting aspects of genetics is how our collective knowledge on genes and their impact on disease and health is expanding every day. Research and studies are continually unearthing new knowledge, which we’re then able to apply to our daily lives in a way that keeps us healthier long-term.

 

Let’s explore the basics of genetics, including how these building blocks of human life affect our eating habits and our ongoing relationship to food.


What is a Chromosome?


Genetics is the study of how genes or groups of genes affect our life. 


We inherit our genes from our parents in the form of chromosomes. We receive 23 from each parent, which are paired together for a total of 46. Each pair of 23 chromosomes contains one from each parent. You can find the same 46 chromosomes in the nucleus of almost every cell in our body, with the exception of our reproductive cells.

 

Chromosomes are structures that are found in the nucleus of each cell, and are central to its creation. Without our chromosomes, our cells would not know how to grow and reproduce effectively, leaving us unable to function.

 

Inside each roughly X-shaped chromosome is a coiled strand of DNA, which is wound around a protein called a histone which helps it keep its shape. Without the histone, the DNA would stretch into a length far too long for any cell to contain.


Learn more about chromosomes in our focused article “An Introduction to Chromosomes”



DNA Basics


DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid. It is the genetic material that carries all the necessary information to tell our body how to function. It also is the basis of all of our hereditary features, guaranteeing that we successfully carry our characteristics into the next generation.  


DNA is made up of molecules known as nucleotides, which come in four different types: Adenine (A), Thymine (T), Cytosine (C), and Guanine (G), which are matched into two base pairs each and are attached to a sugar molecule and a phosphate molecule. Each nucleotide is arranged into DNA’s characteristic spiral, called the double helix.

 

During cell division, the DNA strand splits along the middle of the double helix, and each separate piece of the strand acts as a base for the creation of a new piece of DNA material in a new cell. 


Take a deep dive into your DNA and read our latest article DNA Refresher.



What is the Function of DNA?


DNA exists for one purpose – to store all the information that our cells need to develop, function, and reproduce. It’s easiest to think of it as an instruction manual or textbook that can be found in all our cells, to ensure that each one functions as it should.

 

If DNA is not accurately copied every time that it divides itself, it can lead to disease or illnesses like leukemia, which is caused when defective chromosomes start to change the way your red blood cells reproduce.    

 

Within our DNA, specific sequences of nucleotides called genes provide our cells with instruction on how to create proteins that help our bodies function. They go by many names, including enzymes, hormones, and antibodies – all of these are different types of proteins.

 

Proteins are responsible for the healthy functioning of all the tissues and organs in our body. They are also responsible for how our body processes the food we eat.

 

The behavior of these proteins can change from person to person, depending on the sequence of nucleotides (A, T, C, and G) found in each of our genes. The locations where these nucleotides vary from the norm are called genetic variants.


Genetics and Nutrition


Genetic variants can have a huge impact on our body, changing everything from the color of our eyes to how our body processes certain macronutrients. After all, each human being looks unique, so wouldn’t it make sense that we each have unique differences in areas like metabolism, digestion, and excretion?

 

The immense possibility for minute changes within our genes is why genetics has such a huge impact on our eating habits. As we learn more about nutritional genomics and how our body’s metabolic system works, we can customize our diet to ensure that we’re getting all the nutrients we need.


Genetics and Our Taste Preferences


In addition to changing how our body processes, uses, and stores certain nutrients, our genetic variants have also been linked to our individual taste preferences. Due to certain genetic variants, some people are more sensitive to tastes like bitterness and sweetness, leading them to prefer certain foods and avoid others. 


For example, being more sensitive to the bitter taste of certain foods like kale and Brussels sprouts may cause people to exclude them from their diet, leading to an ongoing deficiency in certain nutrients.

 

Bitterness isn’t the only basic taste that people can experience differently. There have been certain genetic variants identified that can impact the way that we perceive sweet, sour, salty, and umami flavors.

 

Additionally, there are even individual foods that can be perceived differently by different people depending on their genetic variants. For example, up to 14% of the global population finds that cilantro tastes like soap, while the rest love it and enjoy it in many of their dishes. It may not be a coincidence that many of the people with the ‘soapy cilantro’ genetic variant (formally known as OR6A2) come from countries where cilantro is a not popular addition to the local cuisine.


Is There a Link Between Genes and Food Cravings?


For the majority of human beings, eating food is an experience that’s about more than just ingesting nutrients. The sensory component of a meal cannot be denied. Despite our best efforts to follow a nutritious diet, it makes sense that our experience of food will influence our food cravings.

 

For example, some people crave sugarbecause they have genetic variants that impact the way that sugar affects certain regions of their brain, or how their body processes and controls insulin. This is an area where complex research is still ongoing.


Learn How Your Genetics Affect Nutrition  


When it comes to understanding our genes and how they affect our health, there’s always more to learn. That’s why so many people end up taking DNA nutrition tests, like the ones we offer at GenoPalate.

 

These nutritional DNA tests offer insight into the genetic variants that affect your health, including your eating habits and how you metabolize food. With that information, you can start the journey of truly eating for your DNA.


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