• Question: whats the best thing about genes, and why is it so important to humans?

    Asked by kaynul to Richard, Prateek, Liz, Jim, Amelia on 23 Jun 2011.
    • Photo: Jim Caryl

      Jim Caryl answered on 21 Jun 2011:

      Well, without genes we wouldn’t be alive! So that way, they’re pretty important 😉

      The *study* of genes, however, is also essential. Whilst arguably we’ve survived for 99.9% of our history without knowing anything about our genes, the exploration of science and understanding how the world works is what has lead to improved technology, improved health and (hopefully) reduced suffering. We study genes to see how animals work, and importantly, to understand what happens when genes stop working – how does this result in disease, and can we predict that? Can we replace them?

      We study genes to find new and interesting enzymes, often encoded by the genes found in bacteria, that we can use for commercial operations like breaking down toxic waste, making medicines, degrading other wastes and oil etc. We can take genes that make proteins that some people can’t make, and get bacteria to make them for us in plentiful supply, so those people don’t have to suffer for not having that protein – such as insulin taken by diabetics.

      In my own line of research, we study genes to see which ones make bacteria resistant to antibiotics, and which genes make bacteria more able to cause disease. I’m trying to see whether having particular genes actually makes a bacteria unhealthy. I love studying genes, I guess I get the same feeling doing my work as perhaps a computer engineer gets by looking at the inner workings of computer hardware or software – I like to see how things work, and it’s great being able to introduce a new gene to a bacteria, and see the whole cell change its behaviour.

    • Photo: Amelia Markey

      Amelia Markey answered on 23 Jun 2011:

      The best thing about genes is how amazingly complicated (and interesting) they can be to study! 🙂

      Like Jim says our genes are really important because without our genes we wouldn’t be able to produce any proteins that are needed to perform reactions and hold our cells together.

      The sequencing of genomes has lead to a huge leap forward in biological and medical research. It can be used as evidence of evolution and to study how different organisms have evolved. They give us information on some of the causes of disease and also provide a possible source of treatment. They have aided in our understanding of why certain characteristics of ours are the same as our relatives and this has lead on to the development of artificial selection where certain organisms are bred to produce certain characteristics (sheep that give more wool, cows that give more milk and crops that are more resistant to drought and pests).

      So without an understanding of genes and how they work we wouldn’t have a lot of the things that we take for granted.