The human body is a complex organism capable of adapting to its environment. However, despite this ability to adapt, individuals still fall ill and develop diseases.
While factors such as diet, lifestyle choices, and environmental exposure can contribute to diseases, genetics can also significantly determine susceptibility to certain conditions.
Genetics has been known to play a pervasive role in determining an individual’s susceptibility to various diseases ranging from chronic ones such as diabetes or hypertension to life-threatening diseases such as cancer.
What Is Genetics?
Genetics refers to the study of genes and heredity, which includes the transfer of traits from one generation to another. Genes are DNA segments containing the genetic information that determines an individual’s characteristics, such as eye colour, height, and even susceptibility to diseases. Genetics is estimated to play a role in approximately 80% of all diseases that affect humans.
Genetics and Diseases
There are numerous examples of how genetics influences the incidence of disease among different populations. For instance, research has shown that the Ashkenazi Jewish community has a higher risk of developing certain genetic disorders such as Tay-Sachs disease, cystic fibrosis, and Gaucher disease.
Similarly, studies have shown that African Americans have a higher incidence of hypertension and diabetes, while Asians are more susceptible to heart disease. These trends highlight the significance of genetics in determining susceptibility to different diseases.
One of the ways genetics determine disease susceptibility is through inherited genetic mutation. Genetic mutations result from alterations in DNA, which could affect the way proteins are produced in cells. These mutations can cause various diseases, including cancer, cystic fibrosis, and Huntington’s disease. Inherited genetic mutation can be passed down through generations, thereby increasing the likelihood of a particular disease manifesting in an individual.
Another way genetics influences disease susceptibility is through gene-environment interactions. Research has shown that there is an interplay between genetics and environmental factor in determining the likelihood of developing certain diseases. For example, individuals with specific genetic makeup could be susceptible to lung cancer when exposed to cigarettes.
Furthermore, genetics can also affect the body’s response to drugs. Some individuals may metabolise medicine more quickly or more slowly than others. This makes them more prone to side effects or ineffective treatment as the case may be. Genetic testing can help identify underlying genetic mutations that could influence the effectiveness of certain drugs, potentially improving treatment outcomes.
In addition to inherited genetic mutations, variations in genes can also play a role in determining one’s susceptibility to diseases. These variations, known as polymorphisms, can cause certain genes to be expressed differently, which can affect an individual’s susceptibility to certain conditions. For example, there are several genetic polymorphisms associated with an increased risk of developing breast cancer, including mutations in genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2.
Prevalence of Sickle Cell Anaemia and Malaria in Nigeria
Like many other countries, Nigeria faces several challenges in terms of healthcare and disease management. The prevalence of certain diseases, such as sickle cell anaemia, is particularly high in West Africa, including Nigeria. Sickle cell anaemia is a genetic condition affecting the red blood cell’s shape and function. Individuals with sickle cell anaemia are more susceptible to infections, organ damage, and other complications.
One of the challenges that Nigeria faces in terms of sickle cell anaemia is that it is an inherited condition. This means that it is passed down from parents to their offspring. As such, individuals who are carriers of the sickle cell trait are more likely to have children with the condition. With a population of over 200 million people, Nigeria has one of the highest rates of sickle cell anaemia in the world.
However, some measures can be taken to reduce the incidence of sickle cell anaemia in Nigeria. Genetic testing can be used to identify carriers of the sickle cell trait and provide counselling to help such individuals make informed decisions about having children. Additionally, there are treatments available that can help manage the symptoms, such as blood transfusions and bone marrow transplants.
Another disease that has a high prevalence in Nigeria is malaria. Malaria is caused by a parasite that is transmitted through the bites of infected mosquitoes. While several factors contribute to the high rates of malaria in Nigeria, genetics may also play a role. Studies have shown that certain genetic variations can increase an individual’s likelihood of developing severe malaria.
However, there are also genetic variations that protect against malaria. For example, individuals who carry the sickle cell trait are less likely to develop severe malaria, as the parasite will have difficulty infecting their sickle-shaped red blood cells. In addition to genetics, several measures can be taken to reduce the incidence of malaria, such as insecticide-treated bed nets and antimalarial drugs.
Genetics can play a significant role in determining one’s susceptibility to diseases. Inherited genetic mutations and variations in genes can increase an individual’s likelihood of developing certain conditions, such as sickle cell anaemia or breast cancer. However, genetics is just one factor that contributes to disease development, lifestyle choices, environmental exposure, and other factors also play a role.
In Nigeria, genetics play a significant role in the prevalence of certain diseases, such as sickle cell anaemia and malaria. However, some measures can be taken to reduce the incidence of these conditions, such as genetic testing and counselling, as well as public health interventions such as mosquito control and access to antimalarial drugs. By understanding the role of genetics in disease development, we can improve disease prevention and management in Nigeria and beyond.