New research is shedding new light on the evolution of modern humans a process that continues, millions of years after the evolutionary split from our primate ancestors.
Researchers have now added to the existing body of knowledge to create a genetic map that compares human beings to other vertebrates, finding that a host of newly identified genes are entirely unique to humans. Additionally, scientists say these findings could help them better understand the role that genetics play in certain diseases. Their study was published todayTrusted Source in the life sciences journal Cell Reports. While the study of specific genes can be challenging, scientists say this new dataset helps pave the way toward a more nuanced understanding of human genetics. According to Katie Sagaser, MS, CGC, the director of genetic counseling at Juno Diagnostics in San Diego, it’s helpful to think of genes as a set of instructions housed within the nucleus of each cell.
“I often liken genes to the chapters of a textbook,” Sagaser told Medical News Today. “If we think of each cell nucleus as a bookcase, holding the essential instructions for a complex project, then we expect the bookcase to hold 23 pairs of textbooks — 46 total. These textbooks represent human chromosomes inherited from each genetic parent.”
While each parent contributes one set of 23 “textbooks,” the instructions can vary significantly.
When researchers delve into the coils of DNA code embedded within chromosomes, they say they can identify these differences and begin to understand how they play out in the human body.
Genetics aren’t entirely predictable Complicating matters is the fact that mutations — essentially variations or glitches within DNA sequencing — are entirely possible.
“This is the case when a baby is born with a de novo dominant gene mutation, meaning a single letter of the DNA code was randomly changed in such a way that it resulted in the individual having a unique diagnosis not inherited from either genetic parent,” explained Sagaser.
Another variable that can make genetics difficult to predict is the fact that variations in a person’s DNA code might occur during their lifetime – for instance, as a result of certain cancers.