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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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