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Imprinted and More Equal

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Figure 4. The conflict hypothesisClick to Enlarge Image

Among mammals that bear live young, certain genes strongly influence disease risk because only one copy within each pair is active. For these genes, the parent of origin—not the gene itself—determines which strand of DNA exerts its function in the organism. Some of these so-called imprinted genes are turned off when they are inherited from the mother; some are deactivated when they come from the father. This state of affairs is potentially dangerous—like flying a twin-engine plane with only one engine. Given the risk, why would such a situation ever have evolved? A war between the sexes, staged within the genome of each offspring, seems to be the culprit. As the unintended consequences of this struggle, imprinted genes make us more vulnerable to genetic diseases such as asthma, cancer and diabetes.

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