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The Impact of Genetic Variants: 10 Facts That Explain Their Importance

Margaret Etudo
Three generations of females sharing similar genetic variants
Have you ever wondered what makes you unique? The answer lies in your genetic variations.

DNA testing can tell you a lot about genetic variants. The National Human Genome Research Institute says humankind's genetic makeup is 99.9% identical. But what about the remaining 0.1%?

The genes you inherit impact many different attributes—how you look, how your body functions, and even how you interact with the environment. But genetic variants take it one step further and can help diagnose and treat diseases, predict health risks, and customize treatments.

» Looking to find out more about your genetic makeup? Check out our top picks for the best DNA tests for health.

What Is Genetic Variation?

Genetic variation refers to the differences in DNA sequences between people resulting from a permanent change in a gene. This can affect one or more DNA units in your genetic makeup.

Genetic variants play a significant role in the following ways:

Certain changes in your DNA sequence can even alter your genotypic and phenotypic traits, causing you to look different from someone biologically unrelated to you.

Here are 10 interesting facts you need to know about genetic variants.

1. The First Genetic Variant Was Discovered in a Fruit Fly

In the early 1900s, scientists detected the first genetic variant in a fruit fly. The insect had an alteration in its DNA that caused it to have a different eye color than others of its kind. This discovery paved the way for the modern era of genetic testing.

Since then, scientists have identified genetic variants in humans, animals, and plants and used them to understand the basis of diseases and develop personalized treatments.

Fruit fly variants paved the way for the modern era of genetic testing.

2. Some Genetic Variants Are Protective

Genetic variants with a protective effect—meaning variants with decreased risk of disease—can make you less susceptible to harmful environmental factors. They are also important in both the prevention and treatment of diseases.

For example, research has found that carrying the APOE ε2 variant might make you less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease.

3. Genetic Mutations Increase With Age

Our DNA changes over time due to environmental factors, such as exposure to radiation, chemicals, or toxins.

Natural processes like aging can damage our cells, leading to genetic mutations. Most of these are harmless and do not affect our overall health.

However, when combined with other factors, like inherited predisposition, some variants can increase the risk of disorders like cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer's.

» Take a look at these 10 conditions detectable through DNA genetic testing.

4. DNA Variants Affect Your Diet

Genetic variants can affect the following:

  • How your body responds to specific nutrients, including vitamins and minerals
  • Metabolism speed
  • Food tolerances

Understanding your genetic makeup can inform your diet for proper nutrient intake and reduce your risk of degenerative diseases.

For example, variants in the MTHFR gene affect how your body metabolizes folate, a B vitamin found in beans, leafy greens, and nuts. If you have specific variants in your MTHFR gene, you may need to consume more folate-rich foods to ensure your body can produce DNA strands and modify proteins.

Testing can help you reduce degenerative disease risks.

5. Scientists Can Trace Your Ancestry Using Genetic Markers

Comparing specific markers in your genetic variants to those of another makes it possible to determine where your ancestors lived.

Your DNA test results can provide insight into your ethnic background and help you understand potential health risks.

6. You Can Use Gene Mutations to Find Lost Relatives

By analyzing variants in your DNA, scientists can decide whether you and someone else share a familial relationship and, if so, how closely related you are. This information is instrumental in identifying distant relatives and building family trees.

Additionally, by comparing the genetic variants of a child and a potential father, it's possible to identify whether he is the child's biological parent.

» Trace your roots with these online family tree builders.

7. Inherited Variants Play a Role in Evolution

Genetic variants lead to the development of phenotypic and genotypic traits in people. If a feature is helpful to survival and reproduction, the next generation will likely inherit it.

You can use inherited genetic variants to explain why you and your family share specific characteristics, such as:

  • Height
  • Intelligence
  • Resistance to certain bacteria
  • Dietary habits

But although these inherited variants will play a role in natural selection, acquired variants will not.

8. DNA Sequences Can Help Identify Inherited Disorders

Scientists can analyze DNA sequences and study genetic variants to identify possible diseases that may arise from inherited genes.

For example, people with certain variants are more likely to develop Huntington's disease, a genetic disorder leading to progressive nerve cell degeneration in brain parts.

Healthcare providers can evaluate your likelihood of developing a particular disease, which allows for early treatment plans and lifestyle changes to help curb these conditions.

9. Your DNA Can Predict Your Response to Medications

Scientists can identify genetic variants associated with a particular drug and determine how it will affect you. This result guides doctors in prescribing the most effective remedy.

For example, individuals with a certain variant are at high risk of hypersensitive skin reactions during treatment with the antiretroviral drug abacavir.

10. Genetic Variants Can Help Doctors Personalize Treatments

Personalized medicine is an emerging field that uses genetic variants to tailor treatments. It can also help reduce the risk of adverse drug effects.

Using your genetic variants, this medical model looks for the best possible treatment for specific conditions and can predict how you'll respond to a particular drug or therapy.

Variants can help predict how you'll respond to certain treatments.

Unlock the Power of Genetic Variants

By knowing how these variants affect your health, you can make informed decisions about your nutrition, lifestyle, and healthcare. You can also learn more about your ancestry and better understand your family relations. So, why not take charge of your well-being by discovering which genetic variants you carry?

» Ready to find out more? Try DNA tests like Vitagene or Futura Genetics.

Margaret Etudo
Margaret Etudo is a medical writer specializing in healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and various medical fields, with a Bachelor of Pharmacy Degree in progress at the University of Lagos. Her experience includes crafting articles for top10.com, WebMD, and Medical News Today, where she exhibits her ability to simplify complex topics in areas like respiratory, mental, and sexual health. Margaret makes it her mission to break down complex medical information for the everyday reader.