|T H E N I H C A T A L Y S T||N O V E M B E R D E C E M B E R 2004|
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TEETH, TONGUES, AND TOES: IT'S ALL IN THE GENES
When someone tells you that you look just like your mom or dad or sister, they're not just being mean (just kidding!). People to whom you are the most closely linked genetically are your immediate family, but we all share genetic links even if we can't quickly trace back to a common ancestor.
Genetics is, to me, one of the most fascinating and important branches of science because it's seen everywhere, all of the time, and the discoveries made now may change our quality of life forever. It can explain why a flower is purple, why your hair isn't (one day), and maybeagain, one dayhow to change from brown to purple. Of course, curing genetic diseases is right up there with the color of your hair . . . . it's all linked, and so are we.
There are a few genetic differences that are easy to see and track within your families and classes. The websites given below are springboards for additional research, but for these experiments all you really need is a piece of paper and willing participants.
Keep in mind that entire sections of libraries are devoted to genetics, and you could study it for the rest of your lifestarting right here with your toes.
Have all your subjects take off their socks and shoes (you can do this outside if it's not too cold) and tell you whether their second toe is longer than their big toe. The longer toe is genetic and is called a Roman Toe, not after the Romans, but after a scientist who studied it.
My all-time favorite, since I know someone very well who is missing her lateral incisors. Only 1.5 percent of us are missing those particular teeth, but an even higher percentage are missing other teeth (because they were born that way, and not because of an older brother). If you don't have all of your adult teeth yet, you may not know, but keep this one in mind. If you do run into a "two-tooth" (slang for having two front teeth instead of the usual four, since the two incisor sidekicks are missing), ask them whether their siblings or parents have the same thing. I have only ever met five two-tooths, and I've been asking for a long time.
Can you roll your tongue so it looks like an O when you're looking in the mirror? Yep, this is genetic, too. Find out how many people in your class can, and how many can't. Figure out what percent of people can, and see how that number changes based on how many people you ask. (Hint: This will be a lesson in the importance of adequate samplingand while youre at it, you might also do an ear count of attached vs. unattached ear lobes.)
Jennifer White, NIGMS
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