Do you have your mom’s button nose? Did your dad pass the sneezing curse in the bright sunlight? And where did the red, curly hair of your baby came from when there hasn’t been a redhead in your family for generations? These questions may sound simple, but the answers will get complicated quickly. If you wonder why it’s because genetic inheritance science is complex and difficult, says Dawn Allain, a licensed genetic counselor, and director of the Genetic Counseling Graduate Program at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
“It’s nearly impossible to tease out exactly where each of your traits came from,” she explains. “Most traits are influenced by many different genes and you inherit some from each parent.”
How you inherit traits
Still, it’s good to ask those questions, and while there aren’t many detailed responses, there are a few simple things genetics can teach you about the traits you inherited from your mother and those you got from your dad, Allain says. But first of all, you need to learn how inheritance works.
“There are three main ways you can inherit traits from your parents,” she explains. The first is a dominant gene— if you inherit a dominant gene, you will inherit that trait. Take eye color, for instance. If one of your parents has brown eyes, you’re likely to have brown eyes, because that is a dominant trait.
Second is a recessive gene— both parents must have a recessive gene to pass you the trait. For example, if you have blue eyes, both of your parents will have a blue eyes gene, even though their eye color is not blue. Finally, there are X-linked traits that are present only on the X chromosome and transmitted by the mother.
Your ability to lose weight
There are two types of fat in your body: “good” brown fat, which increases your metabolism and helps you maintain a healthy weight, and “bad” white fat, which can cause obesity and sickness if you have too much of it. All of us have one type, but how much brown fat you have— and also how high your metabolism is— may be inherited from your mom, according to a study published in Nature Communications.
How easily you gain weight
However, while mom might be helping you out with brown fat, you can blame your dad for your white fat, the Nature Communications study found. How much fat you accumulate, particularly around your organs, can be mainly determined by genes passed down from your father, the researchers added. Genetics isn’t destiny when it comes to your weight, your food choices play a far greater part.
Your ability to focus
If your mother has lower levels of serotonin, a mood-related brain chemical, then you are more likely to experience attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder later in life, according to a report published in JAMA Psychiatry. The genes passed down from mom to kid that has an impact on serotonin production often seem to affect your ability to concentrate. Sounds familiar?
If you hit puberty early
Puberty, and all the fun milestones that come along with it, like acne, cracking voices, or getting your period while wearing white pants, is a rite of passage that many kids are going through on their way to becoming an adult. Both parents’ genetics play a role in when you start a major shift, but if you start puberty early — before age eight in girls and nine in boys — it may be because of a gene that you inherit from your father, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Specifically, they found that a genetic mutation contributes to a form of premature puberty, which means that if you have it, you ‘re going to have to deal with all that before any of your mates.
Your laugh lines
How much you age and how much you show it is defined on a cellular level by the accumulation of damage to your mitochondrial DNA over your lifetime — the genes you only get from your mom. External factors such as sun exposure, smoking, and an unhealthy lifestyle can cause mtDNA damage, but some of the damage can be inherited from your mother, according to a study published in Nature.
The more mtDNA mutations you inherit from your mother, the sooner you age and the more you will show it in features like wrinkles and gray hair.
Moms can influence your mood in several ways, and not only by punishing you or serving broccoli three times a week. The structure of the part of the brain recognized as the corticolimbic system, which controls emotional regulation and plays an important role in mental disorders such as depression, is more likely to be passed down from mothers to daughters than from mothers to sons or from fathers to children, according to a study published in The Journal of Neuroscience. It could indicate that daughters at least partially inherit their mood from their mothers.
The genders of your children
You and your spouse’s genes clearly determine the gender of your children. But do you know what gender genes you pass on can be inherited from your father? This is how it works: a man with many brothers is more likely to have sons, whereas a man with many sisters is more likely to have daughters, according to a study published in Evolutionary Biology.
It has been known for some time that the family history of Alzheimer’s disease greatly raises the risk of developing the illness, but a recent study, published in Biological Psychiatry, showed that the genetic risk comes mainly from your mother. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia later in life, affecting nearly six million people in America alone, so it’s crucial to understand what factors increase your risk— including the mother’s medical history— and you can start taking measures to protect your brain’s health now, the experts have noted.
A woman’s fertility may be affected by a gene that has been inherited from her father, according to a study published in Science. In a normal egg cell, a part of the cell called centrioles is removed as part of the natural process of development. Nevertheless, if the centrioles are not eliminated— often related to biological dysfunction passed on to her dad— then the woman is sterile, the researchers explained.
You may have learned about how and when a man loses his hair, it’s because of a gene inherited from his mother’s side. However, a study published in PLoS Genetics of more than 55,000 people has shown that this is a myth. Researchers discovered 287 separate genetic signals linked to male-patterned hair loss, and while 40 were present only on the X chromosome, indicating that they were inherited on the maternal side, the rest were distributed in the DNA inherited from both patterns.
Strangely, certain genes associated with hair loss do tend to be associated with an increased risk of heart disease in men. Although certain traits have been inherited, some have been learned.