When a new baby is born, family members often try to identify traits that come from the baby’s father or the baby’s mother. It is typical for people to want to see reflections of the parents in their child. These observations are subjective. A study has found that humans are more genetically similar to their fathers than they are to their mothers.
It is entirely possible for a person to physically resemble their mother more than their father. Even so, a study has found that mammals are more genetically like their father than their mother. Humans, of course, are mammals. What a person looks like doesn’t necessarily reflect what genes he or she “uses”.
The study was published in the journal Nature Genetics in March of 2015. It was done by researchers from the UNC School of Medicine. It was done on mice that are from a group called Collaborative Cross (the most genetically diverse mouse population in the world). The mice are generated, housed, and distributed from UNC.
The results of studies done on mice are often considered to be equivalent what the same study would reveal if if was done on humans. Obviously, there are ethical reasons why many studies are not done with human subjects.
To be clear, the researchers note that each person inherits an equal amount of genetic mutations from their fathers as they do from their mothers. In other words, they aren’t saying that fathers pass on more DNA, or more mutations, than mothers do. Instead, they are saying that people actually “use” more of the DNA that they inherited from their fathers.
Another interesting result of the study has to do with previous studies involving gene expression. Those studies don’t take into account whether specific genetic expression originates from mothers or fathers. This study intentionally took that factor into account. The results showed that inheriting a mutation has different consequences in mammals (and therefore, humans) depending on whether the genetic variant is inherited from the mother or the father.
It is possible that this new insight will lead to a new way of looking at human genetics. Previously, doctors, scientists, and researchers focused on what gene a person inherited, or what mutation is on a specific gene. Now, they can begin to look at those genes (and mutations) to see if they have a parent-of-origin effect.
In “plain English”, a mutation in a gene that connects with a higher risk of developing a specific disease could have different outcomes based on whether a person got that mutation from their mother or father. A “bad” mutation might not have as big an effect if it was inherited from the person’s mother.
Image by Eli Braud on Flickr.
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