The Human Body

Genetics

Genetics, study of the function and behavior of genes. Genes are bits of biochemical instructions found inside the cells of every organism from bacteria to humans. Offspring receive a mixture of genetic information from both parents. This process contributes to the great variation of traits that we see in nature, such as the color of a flower’s petals, the markings on a butterfly’s wings, or such human behavioral traits as personality or musical talent. Geneticists seek to understand how the information encoded in genes is used and controlled by cells and how it is transmitted from one generation to the next. Geneticists also study how tiny variations in genes can disrupt an organism’s development or cause disease. Increasingly, modern genetics involves genetic engineering, a technique used by scientists to manipulate genes. Genetic engineering has produced many advances in medicine and industry, but the potential for abuse of this technique has also presented society with many ethical and legal controversies.

Genetic information is encoded and transmitted from generation to generation in deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). DNA is a coiled molecule organized into structures called chromosomes within cells. Segments along the length of a DNA molecule form genes. Genes direct the synthesis of proteins, the molecular laborers that carry out all life-supporting activities in the cell. Although all humans share the same set of genes, individuals can inherit different forms of a given gene, making each person genetically unique.