A beginner's guide to genetics: the basics
In the first of our new series about clinical genetics, Adrién J Gonzélez, Heidy R Arrieta, and Osvaldo M Mutchinick explain the fundamental principles of medical genetics, which provide the basis of prevention and treatment of genetic diseases
Founded by Gregor Mendel in the 19th century, genetics is the scientific discipline that probably has the greatest potential to change the way we practise medicine in the future. Genetics affects many aspects of life--in horse racing, where certain characteristics, such as speed and strength, are chosen to be passed on to the next generation; in crop selection, to allow better vegetables to feed more people; and in recombinant DNA technology, to produce insulin and other chemicals to improve disease treatment.
For medics, the most important area of genetics is human genetics, particularly medical genetics, which deals with the interactions between the human genome and the environment in which we live and how these interactions affect our life in terms of health and susceptibility to disease.
Genetic information in most living organisms, including humans, is organised in chromosomes. In human cells, chromosomes are inside the nucleus and are in pairs.