Hundreds of minor genetic mutations start to form in the cells of an embryo soon after conception, researchers have discovered.
The Yale University and Mayo Clinic scientists said that many of these mutations occur as sex cells are forming in the embryo. That means they can become part of the embryo’s genome and be passed on to the next generation.
“This opens up a larger perspective on human development,” study author Flora Vaccarino, a neuroscience professor at Yale, said in a Yale news release. “Some of our genome does not come from our parents.”
These early genetic mutations are also similar to those found in cancers, according to the researchers. They said this suggests that cancers can occur as a normal byproduct of cell division.
They added that their findings may provide new insight into the causes of neurodevelopmental disorders such as schizophrenia or autism. These conditions are primarily the result of genetic abnormalities, but no single gene inherited by parents has been found to cause a large number of cases.
The study may also help explain why one identical twin might have a genetic disorder while the other is healthy, or why some members of a family who carry a disease-causing mutation do not get sick, the researchers said.
The findings were published Dec. 7 in the journal Science.
The next question is what is driving these genetic mutations? Environmental factors first come to mind but are some of the mutations random? What about maternal health and nutrition? How about paternal health issues prior to conception? If the mutation is favorable, does it offer enough advantage that it will be carried forward to future generations?
We know that all viral infections leave a little of their genetic material that gets incorporated into our DNA. It’s thought that these genetic mutations offer some form of immunity to future infections for the host and future generations.
A virus that is to virulent kills itself when it kills the host. It’s mutually advantageous for the host and virus to survive the infection. Science has asked us to forgo thinking of ourselves as individual entities, rather we are a collective of millions of organisms all in one body.
Epigenetics (literally “above genetics”) looks at gene expression. Regardless of any and all gene mutations, it is the expression or lack of expression of that gene which alters the chemistry of the body. Vitamin D, vitamin 12 and folic acid, all in their bio-available forms play key roles in gene expression.
23andme, the online genetic testing service looks at many of the most studied, common gene snippets and their potential effect on the chemistry of the body. It’s a simple test from saliva. Honestly, the report from 23andme is not all that impressive. However, if you go through an interpretation service, like genetic genie, the raw data provides a wealth of information.
The Bottom Line:
We know very little about genes, genetics and genetic mutation. Watson and Crick first unraveled our DNA in 1953. Until very recently, scientists thought that 98% of our DNA was junk. It’s not junk, we just haven’t yet figured out what it does. Some speculate that we are the library of the universe and that all knowledge is contained in our DNA. Maybe, maybe not, but it makes for good Syfy and better future research.
Source: December 7, 2017 National Institutes of Health