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A genetic carrier (or just carrier), is a person or other organism that has inherited a genetic trait or mutation but does not display that trait or show symptoms of the disease. Carriers are, however, able to pass the gene onto their offspring, who may then express the gene. This phenomenon is a direct result of the recessive nature of many genes.
For example, the daughters of Queen Victoria, Princesses Alice and Beatrix, were carriers of the X-linked hemophilia gene (an abnormal allele of a gene, necessary to produce one of the blood clotting factors). Both had children who continued to pass on the gene to succeeding generations of the royal houses of Spain and Russia, into which they married. Males who carried the altered gene had hemophilia, while females simply passed it to nearly half of their children.
Up to 1 in 25 individuals of Northern European ancestry may be considered carriers of mutations (CFTR genes) that can lead to cystic fibrosis. The disease appears only when two of these carriers have children, as each pregnancy between them will have a 25% chance of producing a child with the disease. However, it is also thought that carriers may be more resistant to diarrhea during typhoid fever or cholera, and are therefore not truly asymptomatic. This resistance leads to increased survival of the carriers, thereby increasing the frequency of the altered genes in the population.
Genetic carrier testing can be used to tell if a person carries one or more mutations of the CF gene and how many copies of each mutation. The test looks at a person’s DNA (genetic material), which is taken from cells in a blood sample or from cells that are gently scraped from inside the mouth.
Although only about 1 of every 3,000 Caucasian newborns has CF, there are more than 1,000 known mutations of the gene that causes CF. Current tests look for the most common mutations.
The mutations screened by the test, vary according to a person's race or ethnic group, or by the occurrence of CF already in the family. More than 10 million Americans, including 1 in 29 Caucasian Americans, are carriers of one mutation of the CF gene. In other races or ethnicities 1 in 46 Hispanic Americans, 1 in 65 African Americans, and 1 in 90 Asian Americans carry a mutation of the CF gene.
- Potts, W.T.W. "Royal Haemophilia." Journal Of Biological Education (Society Of Biology) 30.3 (1996): 207. Academic Search Premier. 16 Sept. 2013
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