Health & Fitness

How the Work of a Monk in the 1800s Relates to Today’s Study of Genomics

The structure of DNA was discovered in 1953, but the concept of genetic science goes all the way back nearly 100 years before that. Today, companies like Pathway Genomics, with Jim Plante at the helm, offer genetic testing for a broad range of purposes. People can find out whether they are at risk for an inherited disease, whether there is a genetic reason they prefer to work third shift, and why ibuprofen doesn’t do much for their headaches.

George Mendel and the Study of Traits

In the mid 1800s, George Mendel provided the fundamental knowledge about how genetic traits are passed from one generation to another and sometimes skip a generation. He wasn’t studying humans or other animals, though. His work focused on plants, and specifically, the pea plant. The field of animal genetics is different but still has many similarities in inheritance patterns that Mendel discovered in his research. For example, he came to realize the existence of dominant and recessive traits, as well as hidden traits that could remain in the trait structure but not being expressed until the next generation.

Interestingly, Mendel was actually a Catholic monk, doing his work in an Austrian monastery and later being elected an Abbott. By breeding and crossbreeding pea plants, he learned some of the most important aspects of genetics to provide the foundation for later work by other scientists. At the time, however, there was no concept of DNA or genes.

Genetic Modifications for Health and Wellness

Some researchers and many individuals are interested in the prospect of genetic modifications that will prevent or cure disease. People who are from families that deal with inherited disorders or have family members with genetic mutations may be particularly fascinated at this possibility. Genetically modified plants are common now, and scientists have been working on genetic engineering in animals. Of course, many people have concerns about these activities as well.

Genomics increasingly is an important part of medicine and general wellness, as research uncovers more and more traits that can be identified through genetic markers. Having the knowledge provided through genetic testing can help people improve and maintain their health.