Asthma and Genetics

Most places you go you will hear of people suffering from asthma. It has become a common day occurrence and is discussed as easily and carelessly as the common cold. Also, most people think asthma affects only your lungs but in actuality it affects so many more areas of your life.

Asthma is caused by a sub-group of white blood cells called T cells. It is commonly believed that an asthma attack occurs when a type of T cells secrete a certain set of immune-signalling proteins called cytokines that inflame the lungs, inflame the chest, and cause wheezing (Masmen, 2011). An asthma attack can be caused by your T cells overreacting to things like pollen or other antigens (something that causes an allergic reaction), where they then call in an excess number of antibodies (BrightSurf.com, 2003). T cells are created through a simple process called mitosis. This process starts off with the stage known as prophase where the coiling of the chromatids (part of the chromosomes) causes the chromosomes to be visible. Next is metaphase, where the chromosomes are completely stretched out and line up in the center of the cell. In the anaphase stage, sister chromatids separate and move towards the ends of the cell. When the chromosomes movement stops telophase starts which reverses the act of prophase and leads cytokinesis (splitting into two cells) to taking place. Because asthma starts in your cells, it can affect many parts of the body (Hoffman, n.d.).

When most people think of asthma, they think of it only affecting your lungs, but in actuality, it can affect multiple areas just as much as your lungs. Here is some info on how it affects certain areas:

  • Lungs: When you have an asthma attack, your bronchial pathways in the lungs close up.
  • Heart: During an asthma attack your body has to work harder because you don’t have the same amount oxygen coming into your bloodstream.
  • Brain: If you have a severe enough asthma attack it can cause cerebral hypoxia which is a lack of oxygen supply to the brain. In mild cases it can cause lack of judgement but, if it gets severe enough it can cause a coma (Tyson, 2011)

As you can see asthma can affect many different bodily aspects.

New research has surfaced that contrary to popular belief, you can be genetically predispositioned to develop asthma. They have found that 60% of children of parents whose parents both suffer from asthma are going to suffer from it in their life as well. This is very high compared to the 6% of children with neither asthmatic parents that get it or even the 20% of children who suffer from asthma just like one of their parents (Dixon, 2006). We did a survey at our school and came up with these results.

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The data shows through the gradual increase of the bars that asthma can be a recessive gene. Passing on asthma through genetics is possible because of a process called meiosis where there is four haploid cells (each with only half the normal amount of chromosomes), that has half the genetic information from the father and half of the genetic information from the mother (TeacherWeb.com, n.d.). (Most asthma is caused by an allergy to inhaled environmental allergens. There are both genetic and environmental factors that contribute to asthma. The identification of other genetic factors will lead to further understanding of the susceptibility to asthma and the ability to develop a cure.

Asthma is genetically and environmentally related disease that affects many athletes both at the amateur and professional level. If we can find out more about the genetic side of asthma, we can possibly find a cure that will stop it in its tracks.

Bibliography

Tyson, A. (2011, March 30). What Organs Does Asthma Affect. In Livestrong.com. Retrieved May 21, 2012

Maxem, A. (2011, November 23). Asthma: Breathing new life into research . In Nature. Retrieved May 21, 2012

Bhargava, H. D. (2012, February 28). Types of Asthma. In WebMD. Retrieved May 21, 2012

Ericson, G. (2009, May 18). Researchers discover why eczema often leads to asthma. In Washington University in St. Louis. Retrieved May 22, 2012

Dixon, J. (n.d.). A Child’s Journey through Medicine. In Yale-New Haven Teacher Institute. Retrieved May 29, 2012

Genetic Marker for Asthma Identified at Oxford. (2003, February 10). In BrightSurf. Retrieved May 22, 2012

Contopoulos-Ioannidis DG, Kouri IN, Ioannidis JPA: Genetic Predisposition to Asthma and Atopy. Respiration 2007;74:8-12

Mitosis. (n.d.). In Maricopa. Retrieved May 25, 2012, from http://www.pc.maricopa.edu/Biology/thoffman/Common181/LM8CellReproduction.pdf

Meiosis 6G. (n.d.). In Teacher Web. Retrieved May 30, 2012, from http://teacherweb.com/TX/roberteleehighschool/Biology/6G.pdf

written by Katie Hamel and Nicholas Kridler