Each of us carries about half a dozen defective genes. We remain blissfully unaware of this fact unless we, or one of our close relatives, are amongst the many millions who suffer from a genetic disease. About one in ten people has, or will develop at some later stage, an inherited genetic disorder, and approximately 2,800 specific conditions are known to be caused by defects (mutations) in just one of the patient's genes. Some single gene disorders are quite common - cystic fibrosis is found in one out of every 2,500 babies born in the Western World - and in total, diseases that can be traced to single gene defects account for about 5% of all admissions to children's hospitals.
In the U.S. and Europe, there are exciting new programs to 'map' the entire human genome - all of our genes. This work will enable scientists and doctors to understand the genes that control all diseases to which the human race is prone, and hopefully develop new therapies to treat and predict diseases.
Diseases of Genetic Origin
Most of us do not suffer any harmful effects from our defective genes because we carry two copies of nearly all genes, one derived from our mother and the other from our father. The only exceptions to this rule are the genes found on the male sex chromosomes. Males have one X and one Y chromosome, the former from the mother and the latter from the father, so each cell has only one copy of the genes on these chromosomes. In the majority of cases, one normal gene is sufficient to avoid all the symptoms of disease. If the potentially harmful gene is recessive, then its normal counterpart will carry out all the tasks assigned to both. Only if we inherit...