DNA 101—How DNA Variants Cause Physical Changes

DNA is how your body stores genetic information. It’s like a vault containing everything needed to build and maintain you, stored safely inside the cells of your body. But not everyone’s DNA is the same. We all start our lives with genetic variants, or differences in our DNA. These are inherited from our parents. Sometimes, a DNA variant in a gene results in a different protein being made. Let’s take red blood cells as an example. These cells are typically round, but some people have was variant in a gene important for red blood cells to function. This change in the DNA changes how the protein behaves. This new protein causes red blood cells to change shape. In this case, red blood cells don’t carry oxygen as well, and can get stuck in blood vessels and organs. This disease is known as sickle cell anemia. But not all variants cause diseases. Some DNA changes are actually beneficial for the human population, like the ability to digest lactose, or whether you enjoy the bitterness of grapefruit. But most variants are neither beneficial nor harmful, they’re neutral, like eye color. No matter whether a variant is harmful, helpful, or harmless, all changes to our DNA create genetic diversity, and because everyone’s DNA has some variation, everyone’s DNA is different, and that’s completely normal. Helix: The next great discovery is you.

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