The science of genetics is as young as it is mysterious. Yes, we can use this word without any exaggeration because it’s true – there are more unsolved secrets and undiscovered mysteries in genetics than in any other science (okay, astrophysics is also a decent competitor). That being said, numerous discoveries are made in genetics each year, revealing new mind-bending facts about the building blocks of a human being. It wasn’t until 2003 that scientists have finally mapped out the human genes, revealing the startling number of around 25,000 genes that make us who we are. Here are 10 mind-bending facts about genes that explain everything.
Mutations make us pretty
Well, not all mutations are equal in its impact, but if a person looks somehow different – rest assured a mutation is to blame! They can be drastic like albinism, vitiligo, and multiple eye colour, but there are also subtler mutations like the one that made Elizabeth Taylor grow beautiful double-layered eye-lashes.
We are 99% alike
Yes, on genetic level we are more than 99% alike, which makes less than 1% of our genes responsible for all the differences like height, build, eye colour, skin colour, and genetic predisposition to various diseases.
We share genes with cats and bananas
Genes are called building blocks for a reason – same genes when arranged differently (and sprinkled with some unknown magic here and there) can produce various critters, fruits, and veggies. Just like that we share around 96% of genes with chimpanzees, 90% – with cats, 80% – with cows, and around 60% – with bananas.
We’re made of ‘dark matter’
Similar to what astrophysicists found in space, there is quite a lot of ‘biological dark matter’ found in our GI tract. This is unclassified genetic information that cannot be traced to plants, viruses, fungi, animals, or any other species we know about. It’s of completely unknown origin!
Bananas are genetic hybrids
Bananas weren’t always so sweet and mushy. Long time ago humans intervened and cross-bred two different types of bananas (Musa baalbisiana and Musa acuminate) and got a genetic hybrid with sweet mushy pulp and no firm seeds.
Some women really do see more colours
There exists a genetic mutation that can make women have four different types of cone cells in their eyes, making them tetrachromatic. This means that opposed to only 1 million colours most of the people can see, they see an astounding 100 million of different colours, shades, and hues.
Broccoli tastes different for everyone
It turns out that broccoli, cabbage, and other veggies in the Brassica genus contain chemicals similar to phenylthiocarbamide (PTC). This chemical tastes differently depending on the specifics of your taste buds and genetic predisposition. So, for some people broccoli may actually taste bitter or have no taste at all!
Identical twins have the same genes, but they are still very different
If you look at identical twins they seem totally alike, but only at first – then you start noticing slight changes here and there. They do have the same DNA at the time when they are conceived, but after that a plethora of various factors influence their development creating differences. Even in the womb foetuses may develop differently, that’s why one twin can turn out higher than the other.
You can have 2 sets of DNA at once
Well, cats definitely can do it, so why humans can’t? Creatures with two different sets of DNA present at the same time are called chimeras (in Greek mythology they were a mix of various animals like goat, lion, dragon, and others). A bone marrow transplant can create this effect; otherwise it appears in the early stages of foetal development.
We all have viral DNA
Viruses have always played an important part in the development of the human race, after all they’ve existed for millennia before us and will probably exist long after we’re gone. Our DNA has recorded all interactions of ancient humans with viruses – from simple infections to parts of viral DNA that we used in the process of evolution to adapt to environmental changes.