Santhikrishna C Nair
The Mysterious World of Genetics
Have you ever heard the remark that you look just like your father or mother? Obviously yes, right? We all have some similarity in appearance with our parents. Our eyes, nose, face... all these organs will show some sort of similarity with that of our parents. Not only in our physical appearance but in some of our behavioural characters such as emotions, attitudes etc., also we resemble our parents. Yet, we possess some physical and behavioural characters which are quite different from that of our parents. Do you know about the branch of science dealing with this aspect? Genetics is a branch of biology which is dealing with all these studies. The passing on of physical and mental characters from a parent to the child is known as Heredity and the difference in character is called Variation. Encyclopedia Britannica defines Genetics as “the study of heredity in general and of genes in particular. Genetics forms one of the central pillars of biology and overlaps with many other areas, such as agriculture, medicine, and biotechnology”.
Do you ever wonder why certain varieties of crops and animal breeds yield more than others of the same type? Farmers also prefer to cultivate such high-yielding varieties of plants and animals. How do we produce such plants and animals? A 6000- year- old Babylonian tablet gives the evidence of pedigree (which is an ancestral record) of horses and the characters they inherited. This gives the evidence to prove that man had started creating the varieties with useful traits or characters from ancient times itself. But, the mystery behind Genetics was solved only in the 19th century. Genetics deals with the study of Gene which is known as the fundamental unit of heredity. These genes are transmitted from parents to offspring and are affected by physical as well as chemical environments. Ancient theories of Hippocrates (Theory of Pangenesis), Aristotle, Charles Darwin etc.,paved the foundations for the emergence of Genetics.
Gregor Johann Mendel was an Austrian monk and scientist who is regarded as the Father of Modern Genetics. He
discovered the basic principles of heredity by performing experiments in a pea plant in his garden. His experiments proved that there are certain patterns followed in the inheritance of characters which laid the foundation of studies regarding heredity. Mendel chose pea plants for his experiments because they are easy to study and, can be easily produced within a short span of time. He had cross-pollinated pea plants with opposite characters such as tall with dwarf, smooth with wrinkled seed, green seeds with yellow seeds etc., and studied the characteristics of offspring produced and compared their characters with that of the parents. Based on these studies he had made three important conclusions which came to be known as Law of Segregation, Law of Dominance and Law of Independent Assortment. The experiments performed by Mendel and the Laws proposed by him paved the foundation for the study of Genetics.
You might have heard the term Genetic Engineering. It has applications in different areas of science such as in medicine, agriculture, veterinary, ecology, research etc... It includes the genetic manipulation of organisms in order to produce organisms with the desired trait or character. Bt Cotton, Golden Rice, Aqua Advantage Salmon, Flavr Savr Tomato etc., are examples of genetically modified organisms. This is an important application of the field of Genetics. Do you know from where insulin for diabetes treatment is produced? By means of genetic engineering a micro organism called Escherichia coli is modified in order to produce human insulin known as Humulin in large scale.In the same way, other hormones, human albumin, proteins, monoclonal antibodies, antihemophilic factors, vaccines, and many other drugs are also produced by means of genetic modifications. Another application of Genetics is Gene therapy - a developing method of treatment used to treat diseases such as AIDS, cancer, cystic fibrosis etc… So, the world of Genetics is a mystery and when we resolve that mystery, we can find many solutions to different problems which we have been facing so far. Let’s remember the words of Aidan Quinn “Genetics play a huge part in who we are. But we also have a free will.”
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കരിയർ ഫ്രണ്ട് – Issue #9 : വിദ്യാര്ത്ഥികളുടെ അഭിരുചിക്കനുസരിച്ചുള്ള കരിയര് കണ്ടെത്താന് വിദ്യാ സാരഥി