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What Do Genes Do

Updated on December 26, 2014

Unravelling the Mystery of Genes

Hidden deep inside the organisms of life and beyond the reach of human understanding, until recent times, are the very basic building blocks that transfers information from generation to generation. They are genes, the tiniest particles of existence that are responsible for who we are and what we look like. But they are more than that. They carry messages that can determine how long we live, what diseases we will suffer, what sex we will be, how we will function as an individual, and so on.

As a medical student first off many years ago and then researching in my medical anthropology course at the Australian National University there was something about genes that grabbed my attention more than any of my other studies. They are markers that can determine the origin of a race, the migratory patterns of humans, and the secrets we might like to keep from the rest of the world. Genes determine us, who we are, how we speak, the shape of our nose, the color of our eyes and even our fertility and reproducing abilities.

Most people know of the double helix (pictured) and of the little knobs on either end of the cross bars but it is time to probe deeper and look inside to find out just how genes work. If you look closer at the cross bars you will see that they comprise smaller particles that are similar to particles on a skewer. They are not on a spike, however, but are held to together by electric charges that is another mystery of life.

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This lens was a Summer Sunshine Awards winner and has contributed to March of Dimes Charity which also won $99 as a result.

The double helix
The double helix

The First Hint of the Structure of Chromosomes

As researchers worked to unravel how disease and characteristics were passed on a young lady, Rosalind Franklin, unraveled the crystallographic evidence of the structure of DNA when she attended Cambridge school of medical research. She worked in the same lab as Maurice Wilkins and Max Perutz. Her findings were recorded in a document that these two gentlemen then showed to two other scientists, Crick and Watson, without her consent or knowledge.

To backtrack a little "In 1944, Oswald Avery had shown that DNA was the "transforming principle," the carrier of hereditary information, in pneumococcal bacteria" (cited Profiles in Science - National Library of Medicine). In 1951 Franklin began her research through X-rays of the structure of cells and gradually unearthed the double helix. The constant exposure to X-rays probably induced the ovarian cancer from which she died in 1958 without recognition for her part in the discovery that would change medicine forever.

The image is from Wikipedia open source and although it is dark it is nowhere near the faint outlines of genes that Franklin first saw under X-ray and she still had to explain what it meant. This took months of her time as she was not a biomolicular scientist as the others in her vicinity were. So there is a chance she may never have gotten any further, but things were taken out of her hands by the young enthusiastic, Crick and Watson, who were also working to unravel the genetic code.

Identifying the helix was the greatest triumph of her short life but once Crick and Watson got wind of it they quickly claimed it as their discovery and would later be awarded the Nobel Prize for physiological medicine. They published their findings in Nature in April, 1953

Women in Science

It was conventional thinking that women in science were not appreciated. This was a man's world and to take research conducted by a woman and simply adopt it as your own was the done thing.

Do You Think Women Were Badly Done By? - Very few were recognised for their contribution to science.

Should credit be given to Franklin for her part in discovering the double helix.

amino acid molecule
amino acid molecule

Amino Acids and Protein

Their role in genetic science

Amino acid comprises nitrogen. hydrogen. oxygen and carbon linked together by electronic valency. That is the charged particles of their atoms are held together by magnetic force. A whole string of these molecules form what is termed protein. That is usually an elastic type substance in living cells. In fact, it can be termed the basis of life.

This is what cannot be manufactured in the laboratory by artificial means unless living cells are used to start with.

My first introduction to amino acid came through Ribonucleic acid or RNA. This is found in living cells. Another form of an amino acid is Deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA. This is the substance that contains the genetic instructions of all living things. It is the storage place of information that determines characteristics in new cells. One might call it a code, a blueprint or even a recipe for construction of protein and RNA. The segments that carry this information are genes. Along with them the rest of the DNA fulfills either a structural purpose or it serves to regulate the use of the genetic material

The DNA is organised into long strains called chromosomes. It is these that form the double helix that Franklin identified. But it was 20 years later before the true function of these cell particles was properly understood and the science of genetics was born.

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Amino Acid Protein

Have You Considered How Life is Created? - Or is it something you would rather not delve into?

Do you want to know how life is created?


The Formation of New Life

How do genes work?

In the case of sexual reproduction the two sex cells (gametes) come together. In each are a single set of chromosomes known as either an X chromosome in the case of the egg or an X or Y chromosome in the case of the sperm. Along each chain lies a set of near matching genes that will determine everything about the new life form, including its sex. During fertilisation they pair up in a remarkable display that can be observed through a microscope.

It doesn't matter the species of animal or plants. The results are the same. Some plants are reproduced sexually through male and female sex organs. These include ferns, vegetables, and fruits, e.g. kiwi fruit

The person responsible for discovering that genes follow specific laws was Gregor Mendel, an Augustinian priest. During the mid nineteenth century he experimented with peas and determined that they passed on inherited traits that fitted a specific pattern. From this he worked out that genes can be dominant or recessive and that one in four offspring carry double recessive genes while two in four have a recessive and dominant gene and one in four has only dominant genes. Recessive genes are those which carry unusual traits This is the simplest way to explain it although it is more complex than that.

When the two chromosomes in a mating come together it depends on the type of gene, that is whether it is recessive or dominant, that determines the characteristics of the offspring. For example if one pairs a recessive gene for dark skin color with a dominant gene for white skin the offspring will have white skin but it will carry a recessive gene for dark skin into the next generation. If then mated with another recessive gene for dark skin in the next or future generation then the offspring will have dark skin. this applies for any condition.

Mendel first demonstrated this in peas and established the law of inheritance, called Mendel's law.

It means that without the two chromosomes in the sex cells coming together there would be no offspring as an individual of any sexually reproduced species cannot survive without the double set of genes. This was unknown in ancient times when religions devised virgin births for their prophets and demonstrates how wrong these prinsiples are. To clarify this further a normal cell has 46 chromosomes while a gamete, the ova or sperm, has only 23. Before life can begin the new cell must acquire the extra 23 chromosomes to create an individual.

If an X and Y chromosome come together then the offspring is male, whereas if an X and X chromosome appear then the offspring is female. There is some debate over how much material the Y chromosome carries as some believe it is lacking some traits that the X chromosome has. But this is contentious as human father's pass on to son's specific traits, the most famous of which are big ears, color blindness and even smelly feet.

It is the random mating of all genes that produces the characteristic DNA which, like fingerprints, is not the same in any 2 individuals. It is like fingerprints a marker that cannot be mistaken.

Sex and Genes - X and Y Chromosomes

The Effects of Recessive Genes

Prominent in Some Societies

In isolated groups where marriage between cousins is normal there is often to be seen traits not normally found in the wider human population. These can include things like lack of pigmentation in eyes, skin and hair color, for example. We call these individuals albino.

Hemophilia is another trait related to recessive genes. It was a condition in many royal houses where cousins married each other to retain power and control. The Russian Royal Family suffered from this condition which may have come from Queen Victoria who was a carrier. She passed the condition to two of her daughters, one of whom was married to the Tsar of Russia, and one of her sons, Alexi. It means that the blood lacks the ability to clot due to the missing Factor VIII, a condition that he inherited this from his mother.

Huntington's Disease is another recessive genetic trait. It usually manifests itself after the age of 30 and causes a progressive destruction of brain cells. If present in a parent 50% of the offspring will inherit the disease unless there are other factors involved.

One of the diseases I studied and will talk about in another lens is Sickle cell anemia. This can be fatal at any age and death may occur as a result of a lack of oxygen and the sickling of blood cells. This can be brought on by sudden shock, elevation into thin air, and other things. There is usually no warning beforehand.

This is only a brief look at some of the recessive factors and their effects. But there are many others that can be studied by the enthusiast.


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    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 4 years ago

      I have a gene for Braca 2 - this caused my sisters and I a lot of trouble as we are all breast or ovarian cancer survivors. This is very important information.

    • VspaBotanicals profile image

      VspaBotanicals 5 years ago

      Love this lens.

    • tvyps profile image

      Teri Villars 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Loved it. I used to think that the only Genes (Jeans) I had were Levis. Squid Angel blessed. (I have an autographed photo of Crick and Watson somewhere, do you want a scan to include in your lens?

    • siobhanryan profile image

      siobhanryan 5 years ago

      I won't pretend I understood Franklin,s work

      I did not under Franklin's work but the rest which I understood I really enjoyed

    • imlifestyle profile image

      imlifestyle 5 years ago

      Great information on genes, thanks...

    • profile image

      poutine 5 years ago

      Awesome !

    • goo2eyes lm profile image

      goo2eyes lm 5 years ago

      thank you for sharing this lens. God created all living things and that is my belief. other people have their own and i respect that. blessings for this wonderful scientific view of how life started.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Awesome lens.This truly is..I like this lens..Quite informative one .Very well written..Thanks a lot for sharing ..Keep posting ..:)


    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Learned so much and you got me interested to delve further on genes.

    • jwcooney profile image

      jwcooney 5 years ago

      Great informative lens, I learned quite a bit reading it!

    • Commandrix profile image

      Heidi 5 years ago from Benson, IL

      This is an interesting, well-researched Lens. It's always a nice surprise when I find other science-oriented Lensmasters around here (though I certainly won't bash the ones who make Lenses on, say, knitting sweatshirts for your cats). Cheers!

    • SheGetsCreative profile image

      Angela F 5 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Entertaining and educational - I learned something new :)

    • Julia Morais profile image

      Julia Morais 5 years ago

      This was an educational read. Awesome lens!!!

    • profile image

      miaponzo 5 years ago

      This is definitely one of the best lenses I have ever seen!!! :) Great educations stuff! Blessed!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I stopped by here months ago but now that I'm a squidangel I get the privilege of doing this ... *blessed*

    • profile image

      dannystaple 5 years ago

      Not sure if I came by and commented before - but this is an awesome lens. It gets my blessing.

    • TheLittleCardShop profile image

      Malu Couttolenc 5 years ago

      Excellent lens, I learned so much. Very interesting information

    • greenmind profile image

      GreenMind 5 years ago from USA

      Thanks for this rational and smart lens. Science and modern medicine have saved so many lives and made it possible for so many people to live with what would have been a fatal condition only a few years ago (I'm one of them!).

    • Mahogany LM profile image

      Mahogany LM 5 years ago

      This was a very VERY interesting lens. Thanks for creating it skiesgreen :)

    • iijuan12 profile image

      iijuan12 5 years ago from Florida

      Great lens! We are just finishing up our homeschool unit on human anatomy. My 3 year old especially loved creating DNA models using Twizzlers and colored marshmallows for the proteins when we studied cells and DNA. Blessed and liked.

    • sherridan profile image

      sherridan 5 years ago

      Great, informative lens - mind-blowing the way the body works and how life so much information is held in such a small package.

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      jimmyworldstar 5 years ago

      I hope that more people know about the original discovery of genes now. It's a shame how often people's contributions are overlooked and that perception is carried out because no one cares to correct it.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      Full of information about genes ! Brilliant job !

    • CNelson01 profile image

      Chuck Nelson 5 years ago from California

      VERY interesting....bravo!

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      termit_bronx 6 years ago

      Nicely done lens. I was wondering about the genes!

    • Vallygems1 profile image

      Vallygems1 6 years ago

      Great Lens , Interesting Subject

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Very nice lens on a complex subject. Haven't spent much time on it since college so the refresher was very helpful.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 6 years ago from Colorado

      Genetics is such a fascinating field of study. I appreciated the opportunity to build on prior knowledge and refresh things I had forgotten since my early college days. Thank you! Very informative and interesting article.

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      Andy 6 years ago from London, England

      A very interesting subject

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      pawpaw911 6 years ago

      I always found genetics fascinating. Thanks for doing the lens.

    • Mermaiden profile image

      Mermaiden 6 years ago

      Thanks for sharing all this great info. I really enjoyed learning about genes. The lens was really comprehensive and flowed really well.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Genes have to do with many things in life, of which scientists are gathering evidence now, a very educative and interesting lens.

    • spartakct profile image

      spartakct 6 years ago

      Interesting and informative lens!!

    • yourselfempowered profile image

      Odille Rault 6 years ago from Gloucester

      What a wonderfully interesting lens! I wouldn't have sought this information out, but I've found it fascinating reading since I happened upon it! Thanks for the great read! :)

    • SaintFrantic profile image

      SaintFrantic 6 years ago

      Thanks.Always been fascinated by genetics and DNA structure.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Awesome lens.Very well explained topic.I just love this lens.Useful too.Thanks a lot for sharing this guys..


    • reflectionhaiku profile image

      reflectionhaiku 6 years ago

      How amazing this lens is and how it gets me to think and appreciate all life forms around us! Thanks and thumbs up

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      terrific lens, glad I browsed into it! If you like to browse as I do, mine has a great educational topic with poll questions for my readers to enjoy.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      A very interesting and informative presentation on genetics, cool how universal laws work! Very well explained and well done!

    • ForestBear LM profile image

      ForestBear LM 6 years ago

      Very interesting and well written lens. Thank you for sharing

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I find the study of genetics and how we evolved very interesting. You have a lot of info here and well presented too. I have a better understanding now of a few things. Thanks.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image

      Tolovaj Publishing House 6 years ago from Ljubljana

      Great lens, very informative. I wonder if you plan to make one about memetics (the sequel of genetics)?

    • profile image

      celeBritys4africA 6 years ago

      So informative. I like your lens.

    • profile image

      tssfacts 6 years ago

      Very informative. I thought I was back in my genetics class of many years ago.

    • Harshitha LM profile image

      Harshitha LM 6 years ago

      It is so nice to find a lens on genes. Wonderful. I loved this lens. Thumbs up!

    • hayleylou lm profile image

      hayleylou lm 7 years ago

      **Blessed** and featured on My Time as a Squid Angel :)

    • Addy Bell profile image

      Addy Bell 7 years ago

      Thanks for featuring my dyscalculia lens! I really enjoyed this introduction to genetics (though, since my genes gave me ADD, I'll have to re-read it several times :)

      I'm also glad to see Franklin's work called out like this. When I read "The Double Helix" it was clear to me that Watson and Crick appropriated her work, all the while treating her with personal contempt. I was furious. It's good to see someone giving her the credit she deserves.

    • Philippians468 profile image

      Philippians468 7 years ago

      science reveals the thumbprint of God in our lives! love the lens! thank you for writing such a wonderful lens! cheers

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      WhitePineLane 7 years ago

      This is a fascinating lens! Thanks so much for featuring my beginning genealogy lens!

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image

      MargoPArrowsmith 7 years ago

      Very interesting lens, as usual

    • The-Java-Gal profile image

      The-Java-Gal 7 years ago

      If I were younger, I would love to be involved with gene research. Now I am just content to read about the latest in gene research. Beautiful lens, and congrats on your win,

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      resabi 7 years ago

      Very interesting and well-done lens on a topic that interests me. Thumbs most definitely up, and lensrolled you to my Crohn's Disease: Humor Helps lens,

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 7 years ago

      @burgessvillian: Thanks Ron, hope your lenses are doing equally as well.

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 7 years ago

      @dannystaple: That's a lovely comment Danny. Thank you

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 7 years ago

      @OhMe: Thank you OhMe. Looking forward to seeing your lenses up there as well.

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 7 years ago

      @anonymous: Thank you Pastella, it was a complete surprise but well received

    • burgessvillian profile image

      burgessvillian 7 years ago

      Congratulations Norma. Another great lens.

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      dannystaple 7 years ago

      A good informative lens, and I like the stylistic enhancements too. I'll probably be looking at it for inspiration as it has done so well!

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 7 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Congratulations to you and March of Dimes on this well deserved win!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      I'm so pleased you won a Sunshine Award. This lens is brilliant and fascinating.

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 7 years ago

      @anonymous: Thanks Rokusan, I have done another on genes - Deadly Genes - and there are more in the pipeline. It was a great thrill winning the award for this charity

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 7 years ago

      @Spook LM: Thanks Spook, Glad you liked it

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      anonymous 7 years ago

      Congratulations on winning the Sunshine Award!! This lens is great ~ SO great, in fact, that I find myself wanting to learn more.

    • Spook LM profile image

      Spook LM 7 years ago

      Fascinating and congratulations on your win.

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 7 years ago

      @anonymous: Thank you Bev, I am lapping up the excitement of winning. Wow!

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 7 years ago

      @anonymous: What a shock. I had no idea that this lens was good enough to win such an award. Thank you Kimberly for all your hard work as well and for making Squidoo such a great place.

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      anonymous 7 years ago

      Fascinating read about what genes do! Congratulations on the Sunshine Award!

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      anonymous 7 years ago

      Congrats on your Sunshine Award! Thanks to your hard work, both you and March of Dimes have earned $99.

      Congrats also on your purple star. It's truly deserved!

    • semas profile image

      semas 7 years ago

      Thank you for an informative lens.Well presented lens to know about our genes!

    • Kylyssa profile image

      Kylyssa Shay 7 years ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      Engaging as well as educational. Thank you for a great lens on what genes do!

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 7 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      You really have a lot of interesting information here describing What Genes Do. Now, if I can only retain this information for a little while. Nominating this lens for the Summer Sunshine Award using the new required form: New Nomination Form for Summer Sunshine Award and also featuring this with your charity, March of Dimes, on Squidoo's Summer Sunshine Award Nominees

    • LoKackl profile image

      LoKackl 7 years ago

      Great lens! SquidAngel Blessed. Congratulations on your Purple Lens!!

    • KarenHC profile image

      Karen 7 years ago from U.S.

      I've been interested in how genes work since I was in high school. Really nice presentation!

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image

      Wednesday-Elf 7 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      Very interesting review of what Genes do. It's a fascinating study and will continue to be as scientists learn more and more. Eventually, I think the study of our DNA will lead to cures for many diseases. Well done!

    • oztoo lm profile image

      oztoo lm 7 years ago

      An interesting and informative lens. Congrats on the purple star.

    • LadyFlashman profile image

      LadyFlashman 7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Oh my, this is a fantastic lens! I never could understand this at school, but you have made it very readable and interesting for ignorant people like me! Congrats on your purple star too!

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      Heather Burns 7 years ago from Wexford, Ireland

      great! I have read that the Egyptians actually did know about DNA, but not its implications for the Ptolemys....

    • Brookelorren LM profile image

      Brookelorren LM 7 years ago

      Great job, and congrats on your purple star! This would be useful for people in school.

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      Bravehistickle 7 years ago

      Yeah maam, great lens- it took me back to school :P