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Inherited Traits In DNA

Woman with bow and arrow prepared to fire

Do you have a champion athlete in your family? How about a math whiz? Or someone with perfect pitch who can write music? Besides eye and hair color, what other traits do we inherit with our DNA?

We know that there are ongoing studies about which genes may cause diseases like Parkinson's. Several studies have been done about whether abilities or talents are inherited or learned - the Nature vs. Nurture argument. What else are we learning?

According to an article in the magazine "BBC Science Focus" and the blog GenLeap, 80 percent of tone-deafness (the opposite of perfect pitch) is genetically determined. Some specific genes are associated with the release of the chemical Serotinin, which modulates mood, cognition, reward, learning, memory and perhaps the ability to create music.

Electric wiring and circuitry

UCLA scientists did a study wherein they "...identified 24 genetic variations within six different genes, all of which were linked to differences in the structural integrity of major brain pathways." The structure of the brain's circuity determines how fast information is transmitted, and this determines how we learn, remember, and perform on tests.

Most people would agree that talent is a product of both genetics and the environment. Genes may give you natural gifts for athletics, science, or the arts, but the development of that talent depends on the environment in which you are raised and, of course, how much you practice.

Young man in a tuxedo playing a grand piano

There is another field of study about the possible inheritance of emotions, trauma, and mental illnesses. Epigenetic ("epi-" from the Greek for on top of, or extra) changes affect how the DNA works in the body, they do not damage or change the DNA. Epigenetic changes are those brought about by environment and behaviors. They are reversible, so the actual DNA sequence is not changed.

Cartoon illustrating brain confusion - PTSD <a href="">Ptsd Vectors by Vecteezy</a>

Experiencing famine while in the womb has been found to affect later adult body mass index (BMI), diabetes, and schizophrenia. Other studies have been conducted on the children of survivors of the Holocaust, children of US Civil War POW's, and the children of service members suffering from PTSD.

Posts and articles about intergenerational traumas abound on the internet lately, usually related to survivors of the Great Famine in Ireland, or the Great Depression in the US. Epigenetics is still a fairly new field, but controversy arises over sample sizes, and when you consider that children whose parents experienced trauma are more likely to grow up with a parent who is still suffering the after effects, and may not have the best parenting skills. Poor parenting behaviors may cause the trauma that is "passed down" to another generation, and not genetics. I'm anticipating the new developments in this field.

In the meantime, Ancestry will do testing of 40 inheritable traits for you, currently for an additional $20. They are still not doing any medical DNA testing. Below is the list from their website:

See how your DNA influences:

Fitness Nutrients Endurance Fitness Beta-Carotene Heart Rate Recovery Vitamin B12 Muscle Fatigue Omega-3 VO2 Max Vitamin C Sprinter Gene Vitamin D Vitamin E Appearance Sensory Facial Hair Thickness Alcohol Flush Birth Weight Asparagus Metabolite Detection Cleft Chin Bitter Sensitivity Finger Length Caffeine Consumption Earlobe Type Cilantro Aversion Earwax Type Lactose Intolerance Eye Color Sun Sneezing Freckles Sweet Sensitivity Hair Color Savory (Unami) Sensitivity Hair Type Hair Strand Thickness Iris Patterns Male Hair Loss Skin Pigmentation Unibrow Wisdom Teeth Their "Compare Feature" allows you to compare some of your traits with your DNA matches who also purchased Traits, and their, "Around the World Feature" shows how your traits may relate to other people with heritage from regions covered by AncestryDNA®.

A site called GenomeLink will do 100 traits with your DNA upload, the old stand-by 23andMe does 30+ traits, and there are some other sites to be found that charge a lot more money and promise better diagnoses of health problems, but those would probably be best handled by your physician.

statue of a man with fingers in his ears

I don't know about you, but I was not aware there was a difference in ear wax types (yuck). And who knew Unibrow was an inheritable trait? Just goes to show you there is just no limit to what you can learn going Genetic Genealogy! These traits might be a great way to break the ice with that reluctant test-taker you've been after! Let me know how it works out!

If I can help with your tree, let me know. Always a free evaluation.

Thanks for dropping by and sharing,

Leslie Ryan

No compensation is received for any links or referrals.

No copyright infringement is intended.

For further reading:

Lumey L, Stein A, Susser E. Prenatal famine and adult health. Annu Rev Public Health. 2011;32(1):237-262. doi:10.1146/annurev-publhealth-031210-101230

GenomeLink website:

23andMe website:


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