It’s in the genes

By • Published: September 10th, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

When kids are clever like MacGyver, some parents like to take credit.

But determining how much of junior’s genius is because of mom’s genes, dad’s genes or some mix of the two can be fodder for spirited family discussions.

Especially if the behavior becomes more like MacGruber’s than MacGyver’s.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for science to settle it. The subject has never been more complicated.

Howard Hughes Medical Institute researchers recently revealed maternal and paternal genetic influences can change depending on the age and sex of the offspring, and even where the genes are located in the body.

Generally speaking, children receive two copies of a gene … one from dad and one from mom. Usually they work together.

Sometimes, the better gene covers for the weaker one. So if a child inherits a defective gene from one parent, the other parent’s version might be able to make up for it … just like a high card can save an otherwise poor hand.

But it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes the maternal or paternal gene dominates through a chemical process called imprinting. This can keep a poor card in play while the good one stays face down and silent … a factor in many diseases.

As it turns out, when scientists analyzed more than thirteen-hundred genes active in the mouse brain, they discovered this so-called parental bias is actively regulated, shifting from the maternal to the paternal, and vice versa.

The new information might help scientists unravel problems associated with brain diseases that affect more of one sex than another, such as multiple sclerosis, autism and anorexia nervosa.

But as for determining which parent is responsible for a child’s MacGyver or MacGruber-like behavior … scientists would probably be smart to stay out of it.