When we think about or discuss inherited traits from our parents, – believe it or not, we all get our traits from our parents and not because the earth is flat or because our neighbor wore a spaghetti strainer on their head – we tend to hear “He or She has your eyes, lips, cheekbones, etc. But what about all of the million other traits that no one thinks about.
Some of the other questions that we might ask ourselves is:
- Why is my brothers hair line receding and mine is not?
- Where did you get your button nose?
- Did your dad pass on the curse of sneezing in bright sunlight?
- Where did your baby’s red, curly hair come from when there hasn’t been a redhead in your family for generations?
While we ponder these things, the answer is not as simple as it might seem, and no, your mom or dad did not cheat on each other.
The science behind the genetics that are passed on to children – like so many things that I write about – would require volumes of books to break down all of the answers to some of life’s questions.
It’s nearly impossible to dichotomize exactly where each of your traits came from. We all know, that despite the many decades of research of DNA, there are still mysteries in each strand of DNA that are as large as the universe itself.
Most traits are influenced by many different genes and you inherit some from each parent, plus there’s the influence of your environment and the environment that your parents were in when you were conceived.
Just because you have a gene for a certain trait doesn’t always mean you’ll end up with it. Then there are traits people often assume are inherited but actually aren’t.
Still, it’s fun to ask those questions and while there aren’t many detailed answers, there are a few basic things genetics can tell you about the traits you inherit from your mom and those you got from our dad. But first, you need to know how inheritance works.
There are three main ways you can inherit traits from your parents:
- First is through a dominant gene. If you inherit a dominant gene you will develop that trait. For example, eye color. If either of your parents have brown eyes, you likely will have brown eyes as this is a dominant trait.
- Second is through a recessive gene. Both parents have to have the recessive gene for you to have that trait. For example, if you have green eyes then both of your parents must carry a gene for green eyes, even if their eye color isn’t green.
- Third and more importantly, there are X-linked traits which are found only on the X chromosome and are passed on through the mother.
One of the questions you might ask yourself is: Why am I skinny when my parents are average or slightly above average weight:
- It’s generally known that there are two types of fat in your body. Good brown fat and bad white fat.
- The brown fat will increase your metabolism and help you maintain a healthy weight, and the white fat which tends to cause excessive weight gain, and in many cases will contribute to the development of disease if you have too much of it.
- Everyone has some of each type but how much brown fat you have may be inherited from your mom. None the less, while mom may be helping you out with the brown fat, you can blame your dad for your white fat. How much fat you store, particularly around your organs may be partly determined by genes passed down from your father. Genetics aren’t destiny when it comes to your weight, your lifestyle choices play an even bigger part.
One of the many questions that I hear very often and have sometimes ask myself is: Why does my sibling have a fantastic memory and I can’t remember where I put my car keys right after setting them down.
It seems that if your mother has lower levels of serotonin, a brain chemical linked to mood, then you’re more likely to develop attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder later in life. The genes passed down from mom to kid that impact serotonin production also seem to influence your ability to focus.
Puberty. One of the most confusing times in a growing child’s life, leaving them to ask “Why!? What is this!?” Your voice is changing, your body is growing faster then you know what to do about it.
Puberty, and all the not-so-fun milestones that come with it, like acne, cracking voices, or getting your period while wearing white shorts, is a rite of passage many children go through on their way to becoming an adult. Both parents’ genetics play a large part in when exactly you start the big change but if you started puberty early, that may be due to a gene you inherit from your father.
Most concerting for women long before men is the question: Why do I have wrinkles on my face?
How well you age and how much you show it is determined on a cellular level by the accumulation of damage over your lifetime to your mitochondrial DNA. These are genes that you only get from your mom. Environmental factors like sun exposure, smoking, and an unhealthy diet can cause mtDNA damage but some of the damage can be inherited from your mother. The more mtDNA with mutations you inherit from your mother, the faster you age and the more it will show in traits like wrinkles and gray hair.
You, like everyone on the planet at some point in time have ask yourselves: Why am I or why do I get so moody at times?
Mothers can influence your mood in many ways and it’s not just by grounding you or serving lima beans three times a week. The structure part of the brain known as the corticolimbic system, which controls emotional regulation and plays a role in mood disorders like depression, is more likely to be passed down from mothers to daughters than from mothers to sons or from fathers to children of either gender. This may mean that daughters at least partly inherit their mood from their mothers.
Gender. Although we all know that we should be thankful for just being born to start with, this is still a question that at some point, you are going to ask yourself. Why was I born a boy or girl?
Obviously the genes from mom and dad determine the gender that you were born. But did you know that which gender genes you pass on may be inherited from your father? A man with many brothers is more likely to have sons, while a man with many sisters is more likely to have daughters.
Memory. As mentioned above, is something that we all think about from time to time.
It’s been known for some time that a family history of Alzheimer’s disease significantly increases the risk for developing the illness. Studies have found that the genetic risk primarily comes from your mother. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia later in life, affecting nearly six million people in America alone, so it’s important to know what factors increase your risk, including your mother’s medical history, so you can start taking steps to protect your brain health now.
For women, while growing up, dreaming about starting your own family in the house with a white picket fence, you have at some point in time ask yourself: Will I be able to have children and will they grow up healthy?
A woman’s fertility may be impacted by a gene she inherited from her father. In a normal egg cell, a part of the cell called the centrioles is eliminated as part of the natural development process. However, if the centrioles aren’t eliminated which is often due to a genetic dysfunction, passed on by her dad, then the woman is sterile.
Mentioned above, why does your hairline recede while your brothers does not?
We’ve all heard that when a man loses his hair is due to an inherited trait from his mom’s side. A study has proven that to be false. Researchers found 287 independent genetic signals that were linked to male-patterned hair loss and while 40 were only found on the X chromosome, meaning they were inherited on the maternal side, the rest were scattered throughout DNA inherited from both patterns. Interestingly, some genes associated with hair loss also seem to be associated with an increased risk for heart disease in men.
And last, but not least. If you have a high level of intelligence, you should be sending lots of flowers to your mother and be sure to include a very big thank you card.