Genetic Traits You Can Blame Your Parents For2018-09-05T10:57:32-06:00

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Genetic Traits You Can Blame Your Parents For.

Strange sneezes? Missed free throws? Feel free to grumble away at your folks if they’ve passed on these hereditary hand-me-downs.

Aside from baseball and competitive singing TV shows, there is likely no better American pastime than blaming things on your parents. Whether it’s that distinctive voice you use when you get mad or an impossible-to-kick barbecue ribs habit, everyone likely has something that they want to blame on the people that birthed and raised them. And there’s nothing that connects us more to our parents than our genes.
Indeed, The Simpsons once dedicated a whole episode to Lisa’s fear that she’d inherit Homer’s trademark stupidity due to an intelligence-decreasing “Simpson gene.” But what qualities do we truly inherit from our parents, and what characteristics do we develop over time from how we’re raised and develop? Eye and hair color are one thing, but can a child really inherit their parents’ wit (or lack thereof)? Is three-point shooting ability passed down?
There are a few genetic features that are expected, namely physical ones; there are also some traits that we get from our folks that may not immediately come to mind. And with other traits, science continues to debate the age-old query as to whether all that makes us “us” comes from the environment we are raised in or our own genetic makeup.

A key question: “Nature” or “Nurture”?

It’s a question hotly debated around both kitchen tables and scientific circles: Are we born with our best attributes entwined in our DNA? Or do we develop them over time from our environment?

A reminder from this Stated Cleary video tells us that DNA is the molecular blueprint that makes proteins, which in turn make cells, which form and eventually make a living thing, like a plant, a person, or a dinosaur. DNA is passed down in tightly-wound coils known as chromosomes. When people talk about genes being passed down, they’re talking about the genes within a person’s set of chromosomes that come from their mother and father.
Mark Payson, MD, is the practice director for the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine of Northern Virginia, and he states that there are many things that are “hardwired” into us from birth: “Certain traits, physical traits, are very clearly genetic. Our eye color, our hair color, our skin color. Our height. It’s all based on the genetic blueprint.”
These physical characteristics are often the most obvious features we inherit. The old, “He has his mother’s eyes!” of it all.
However, less identifiable traits, like parts of a person’s personality or someone’s interests, fall into a more debatable category. Did that love of tennis come from deep within your DNA, or was it because you were playing doubles with mom since the day you could pick up a racket?
Answering such questions with certainty can be nearly impossible. Genetics are at the very core of what makes us unique, thus making any attempt to study them fraught with variables. But there is one way scientists can gain a better understanding of how the genetic lottery can play out: twins. Specifically, twins with identical DNA.

Payson describes the useful findings of some of these studies: “People have done twin studies where they look at twins and they see how similar or different they are. The best studies are when they looked at identical twins that were separated at birth, and then 20, 30 years later, they meet each other.” Such revealing studies are a genetic bonanza for interested experts. “It’s amazing as to how similar they are sometimes,” Payson says.
There is no doubt upbringing and the nurturing, or lack of nurturing, of a talent or attribute can have an effect. Todd Graham, a biotechnology consultant at Delevan Street Biosciences, points out that some traits can be more like tendencies and require a certain amount of environmental support to flourish. “If someone has a trait to be tall, but is malnourished, it won’t come out as strongly,” explains Graham.
Despite the debate, there are plenty of traits that have clear or highly likely genetic ties, at least enough so that you can definitely throw them into your parents’ face when you’re feeling rebellious.

Blame genetics for never getting your shot in the NBA.

It may be all too obvious that something like height is passed down from your parents, so if both your folks are under 5’5″, your hoop dreams may be pipe dreams. But there are many signs that athletic ability itself can also be deeply hardwired into your genes.

Payson says that athleticism is unquestionably a mix of both genetics and upbringing, though there’s no doubting the clear physical gifts and abilities that some athletes inherit—it’s usually when you hear the phrase “natural athlete” get tossed around. Payson explains that there are “certain physical traits in terms of strength and how quickly your muscles respond and endurance that certainly you can be genetically predisposed to have.”
ACTN3 is a high-level muscle protein that is often associated with elite athletes. The muscle composition is just one of many factors that separates some Olympic athletes from the rest of us weekend joggers.

Graham discusses the variances in what effect genetics have on an athlete’s abilities: “There are a number of facts involved in such skills, and it’s not clear how well they are linked yet. We know that slow-twitch muscle versus fast-twitch muscle is important. Slow-twitch muscle is useful in sports that require explosive power, like track and field, baseball and football, while fast-twitch muscle is more useful in endurance sports like distance running.”
Genes go a long way, but if junior was raised since the age of 6 to eat, sleep, and breathe hoops, that certainly has an impact as well. Payson points out that becoming a pro athlete requires “years and years and years of high-level training. If your parent is an athlete and you grow up in that environment and you start doing that from a very young age, that is an enormous advantage.”

Just how much influence genetics has in sports versus development and practice remains a source of constant debate. Sports Illustrated’s David Epstein wrote a whole book seeking to explain “the Sports Gene,” and his takeaway mirrors that of other experts: that neither one factor on its own ensures athletic glory.
So just because neither one of your parents ever played in the big leagues doesn’t mean you won’t have a chance. Like the old adage that you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take, you also won’t be a superior athlete in 100 percent of the sports you don’t play.