Wednesday, April 13, 2011

New Generation

My cousin’s daughter had a baby girl a few months back. This is the first grandchild of my generation and it is exciting to see our little family move on. My cousin has posted several pictures on Facebook and I am so amazed at the family resemblance between this child and my son when he was her age.

Genetics is a fascinating study to me. In high school we studied fruit flies and charted their offspring for traits such as wing length and eye color. With a species as simple as that, it is somewhat easy to predict the percentages of the generational characteristics. However, humans have many more traits that can be passed between members of a family, some which cannot be seen like genetic diseases. What is interesting to me is there are specific traits like noses or eyes that transcend the generations. My little cousin is not yet mature enough to see if she has the family nose shape or eyebrow arch that I see in pictures that my maternal grandparents.

Modern genetics started with a German-Czech Augustinian monk and scientist named Gregor Johann Mendel, who studied the nature of inheritance in plants. Mendel traced the inheritance patterns of certain traits in pea plants and described them mathematically. In 1905, a proponent of Mendel's work, William Bateson, coined the word genetics. He popularized this word during the International Conference on Plant Hybridization in London, England, in 1906. As time went on, they determined that genetics were tied to DNA and found that DNA is the molecule responsible for inheritance.

The early study of genetics was done with plants and then moved on to mammals. Dog and cat breeders look for traits they want to bred for and pair animals together to maximize those traits. It is interesting to note that environment often plays a part in genetic results. According to a Wikipedia article on genetics, it states that temperature actually is a factor in breeding Siamese cats. A low temperature environment causes the DNA protein's structure to be stable and function normally. This results in the coat coloration of the cats. It goes on to say that the protein remains functional in areas of skin that are colder—legs, ears, tail, and face—and so the cat has dark fur at its extremities.

It is possible that early noble families, without really knowing what they were doing, practiced genetics when arranging the marriages of their offspring. This is possibly how certain diseases became specific to particular ethnicities. Today, with love marriages the variations are endless.

Genetics aside, it will be interesting to see how my little cousin grows up and which side of her family she favors.

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