Minute to Understanding: What are genes?


What are genes?

Learn all about what genes are in this video from The Jackson Laboratory!

Every person in the world is different. We all have physical characteristics and quirks that make us unique. But what, biologically, makes us who we are?

Our genes. Genes are found in every one of the 37 trillion cells that make up our body. To define what a gene is, let's look closer at one of those cells. Every cell has a nucleus and inside every nucleus are chromosomes and all chromosomes are made of DNA, molecules that contain genetic information called genes.

Genes in general direct specific processes in the body by coding for proteins. A gene's primary function can be broken down into four general categories. First, genes can encode proteins to build something in the body. This can be anything from muscle to bones and cartilage and any other of our internal structures. Secondly, genes can encode proteins that help direct the body to do something such as muscles flexing or hair growing. Thirdly, genes encode proteins that indirectly support bodily functions. This could be by helping the immune system to respond to injury or to assist blood flow through our circulatory system. And lastly, genes directly influence our physical characteristics or traits like physical quirks, hair color, eye, color, skin tone, and more.

As you can see, each unique combination of genetic code is responsible for everything in our bodies, from internal operations to the way we look. With 20,000 to 30,000 genes in the human body, understanding the function of each gene and even understanding how different genes work together continues to be a major topic of research. So to put it basically one last time, genes encode proteins to direct specific purposes in the body.

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