A common misconception about DNA is that all of your physical traits are each completely determined by a particular gene. In reality, it’s so much more complex, interesting, and amazing than that (which is why we’re here to help you make sense of it all)!
The most important thing to know is that your DNA isn’t your destiny—most of your traits are affected by a mix of genes, environment, and lifestyle, or some combination thereof. What’s more, many genes can affect a single trait. In some cases, scientists use calculations involving thousands of genes to get a better sense of your likelihood of exhibiting a particular trait.
Here are just a few fascinating facts about human genetics that you may not have known:
1. You can have different ancestry results from your biological siblings
It’s true! We won’t spoil the story for you, but basically, it has to do with the way that DNA is passed from parents to children. To get the full scoop, read here.
2. There’s no such thing as “the red hair gene”
You may figure that hair color is a good example of a physical trait that is controlled by a single gene. In reality, hair color is quite complex and involves a concept in genetics known as epistasis.
3. Isolating populations of an organism—say, starting a human colony in Mars—can have a dramatic effect on genetics
Over generations, a concept called the founder effect comes into play when a fraction of a population becomes isolated from the remainder. When humankind heads off to Mars someday, it’s something we’ll have to think about.
4. Finding new insights in DNA takes scientists a lot of very careful work
When scientists talk about the fact that we still have a lot to learn about the human genome, it’s partly because discovering and proving relationships between traits and segments of DNA is a deeply involved process! Dr. Erick Loomis, a scientist at Helix, explains here.
5. We share some genes with plants
Take a glance at the adorable little succulent that’s on your windowsill. Does it remind you of anyone? No? Granted, plants don’t look much like us—but like all life on Earth, we come from the same common ancestor (if you go back in time far enough). These common roots still show in our genome, where you can spot some genes that we share in common with our green friends.