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Will he have the clear eyes of the mother or the curly hair of the father? Will he be short like her or rather tall like him?
These are typical questions that begin to be asked in families when a woman becomes pregnant.
Genetics often becomes a recurring topic of conversation almost from the first ultrasound studies that are done to see the fetus and these issues, after birth, often continue to be the subject of discussion as the child grows.
However, the effect of what we carry in the DNA goes far beyond determining a few physical features, extending to affect our behaviors and abilities.
BBC tells you five aspects that maybe you did not know about it.
1. Aggression as an inheritance
Do you have a quarrelsome friend? Are you someone who easily goes out of his way and resorts to violence? These reactions can have a genetic component.
“The behavior has a genetic basis, which is not obvious and it was difficult to recognize, but now we have it quite clear,” says Miguel Pita, a researcher and professor of genetics at the Autonomous University of Madrid, in conversation with BBC.
“With respect to aggressiveness, it is known that there are individuals who, because of the variants they have in their genes, are born with a behavior that could be more prone to be aggressive than others”, adds Pita, author of the book “The DNA dictator” and who He is one of the speakers of the Hay Festival of Querétaro, which is celebrated in that Mexican city until September 9.
The expert warns that this does not mean that genetics makes anyone more violent, but could have by nature a little more difficulty to repress than other people, although it is then in their environment when it develops fully and becomes a person more or less aggressive.
“Not even the most aggressive genetics forces you to be in your life,” he says.
Pita emphasizes that both aggressiveness and willingness to cooperate are tendencies for which we have a certain genetic basis that we model throughout our lives.
2. Sexual behavior
Beyond the obvious biological differences between men and women, both tend to have different behaviors influenced by genetics.
“Like other animals, men and women have a genetics inside that usually makes us look for different objectives for reproduction that, in the end, see their reflection in the couple’s behavior,” says Pita.
“The females of other animal species tend to behave more cautiously because they must choose their partner better because they will then have to suffer pregnancy and rearing, and the males, who simply contribute half a cell, tend to show less behavior. committed, “he says.
He explains, however, that in the human species he has not remained there and that his behaviors have become much more complex.
“We have managed to domesticate these instincts because we need the involvement of both family members to move the breeding forward, our offspring need a much greater vigilance than other animal species because, for example, we can not leave them alone at five years old. The period they need to develop a certain maturity is at least 10 years, “he points out.
“That has made our biology undergo selective pressure to modify, so there is a permanent question in the biological world: are we monogamous or polygamous? The answer could be that we come from a species that was not monogamous, but is suffering a transition towards monogamy I speak from the biological point of view From a social perspective, in western countries that transition has already been made, “he adds.
3. The love for sugar and salt
“A cake in a shop window is a trap to our biology,” says Miguel Pita, explaining how genetics determines our preference to consume products that have glucose.
Explain that this type of sugar present in food is the fundamental source through which our cells manufacture energy and allow all systems to remain alive and move, which is why our biology was selected and adapted strongly for look for this product.
The expert indicates that the same happened with salt. “Individuals seek the taste of salt because it is necessary for our existence.” Many processes in our body work with salt: the regulation of water levels is based on salt, our brain needs salt to function, our kidneys, our heart Sodium and chlorine in salt are absolutely essential for survival. “
It stands out that the chemical elements that conform these products do not have flavor, but that our evolution took to our brain to feel pleasure when consuming them .
“The taste is in our brain, which deceives us and tells us that salt is rich so we do not forget to ingest it,” he says.
But how did this come about?
“Imagine what the scenario could be if there were individuals who know salt rich and others who do not like it, the former would look for it and eat it and, therefore, be healthy, while the latter would have no impulse to look for it and – taking into account that it was scarce – they would probably be sick, their kidneys and brains would be bad and they will have a worse rate of survival and reproduction “.
“What is the result?” “Those of us who are alive today are descendants of people who sought salt, those who did not seek it have become extinct, they could not survive because they needed it,” he says.
Pita warns that this preference for salt and glucose was developed at a time when both were scarce products, but that today when they are abundant, especially in Western societies, although they are still necessary for survival, the challenge is to consume them without falling into excesses that can damage our health.
4. The vision in colors
The ability of people to see life in colors has a direct relationship with genetic evolution.
According to Miguel Pita, color vision is produced through proteins called oxins, present in the cells of our retinas. Produced by 3 genes, these allow us to see red, green and blue, as well as the colors and nuances resulting from the combination of these colors.
Other primates, on the other hand, can have two or three of these genes, while fish, reptiles and birds have four different genes, so they can see many more colors.
“The interesting thing is that these genes all come from the same ancestral gene that, sometimes, by mutations was copied into the DNA of the same individual, duplicated, and then suffered other small mutations that allowed him to see other colors. mistakes has arisen the possibility of seeing new wavelengths, “says the expert.
He explains that in humans the genes that allow us to make the proteins that enable us to see green and red are found in the X chromosome, one of the sex chromosomes, of which women have two copies and men only one.
” The fact that one of these genes is damaged means that with some frequency there are males with blindness to the color , which is known as color blindness, but the most interesting thing is that the mothers of the color blind can have perfectly healthy copies and others damaged, but these what they do is allow to see different”.
“What generate these genetic variations in these women? Well, some can be tetrachromatic, that is, they can see from the combination of four colors, or even pentachromatic, so they can see variations of five of these proteins and this it means that they are able to see thousands of nuances more than the others we can not, “he says.
These differences would help explain why sometimes there are people who can not agree on the color of an object.
5. Stand idly by
But the influence of genetics in our daily lives is also reflected in more trivial aspects such as, for example, the way we have to cross our arms.
“One can cross the right on the left or vice versa,” says Miguel Pita.
” Everyone has a more comfortable way of doing it because our genetics asks us to do so and, deep down, we tend to access what our genetics ask us for.”
“Those, yes, we must remember that the fact that a behavior is genetically determined does not mean that we can not avoid it,” he concludes.