Dustin: After I talked to my grandmother I began to wonder what the possibilities are of my getting diabetes someday. So when my grandmother suggested I talk to my biology teacher, I decided to speak with Mr. Bruckner after class.
Setting: The high school biology classroom.
Dustin: Hello, Mr. Bruckner, how are you?
Mr. Bruckner: Well, hello there, Dustin. I'm doing fine. Is there something I can help you with?
Dustin: Yes, there is, Mr. Bruckner. My mother and my grandmother have Type II diabetes, and I was wondering if there was any chance that I could inherit this disease? My grandmother seems to have her diabetes under control, but my mom's is getting serious. If this disease does get passed down to me, how does that happen?
Mr. Bruckner: So, you were wondering how susceptible you are to contracting the Type II diabetes? Type II diabetes is a global health problem.
Type II diabetes is especially common in ethnic groups and even more so in Native Americans. There are many theories about how and why this particular disease is found more frequently among Native Americans. Some researchers believe that Native Americans carry a gene they call the Thrifty-gene. They called it the Thrifty-gene because they believe a gene was in place to help our ancestors live through famine and the long hard winters by storing their fat in certain cells. Some research indicates that the thrifty-gene, in recent generations, has increased the possibilities for Native Americans becoming diabetic. Native Americans have been introduced to new foods that were not part of their diet from long ago. Fast food and other preservatives have been added to their diet. Also their culture has changed; for example, new technology has changed the ways of obtaining their food. The Native Americans have become acustumed to grocery stores and most no longer hunt or grow crops for food. Less exercise has also contributed to excessive fat being stored in cells. According to the theories currently held by many researchers who have studied this area, the thrifty-gene is no longer a helpful gene to Native Americans.
Dustin: Mr. Bruckner, if diabetes can be genetically inherited, that means my grandmother's diabetes could have been passed down to my mother, and she may have passed it down to me. How are genetics and diabetes related?
Mr. Bruckner: Let me explain this as simply as I possibly can. Genes are hereditary material that cause the physical characteristics that are transmitted in all living things. Do you follow me so far?
Dustin: So what you're saying is these genes that are passed down to me contain information that can determine my characteristics and can determine what kind of genetic disease I could carry?
Mr. Bruckner: Yes, Dustin. It is believed that many genes may contribute to Type II diabetes. So any genes involved in diabetes passed from your grandparents on down could contribute to your developing Type II diabetes. You receive 23 chromosomes from your mother and 23 chromosomes from your father. A chromosome is a threadlike structure in a cell that carries the genetic information in the form of genes. These chromosomes carry the genes that are composed of the chemical, Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA). The genes are arranged in a linear manner along its length. So, if you receive a chromosome with a diabetes gene from one of your parents, you have a chance of developing Type II diabetes. If you receive chromosomes from both parents that are susceptible to Type II diabetes, you have a greater risk of developing Type II diabetes.
Dustin: So Mr. Bruckner, What's so different about diabetic genes?
Mr. Bruckner: Well Dustin, we are all unique because we all have slight variations in our genes. Some genetic changes called variations can lead to Type II diabetes. The variations can change one of the A, T, G, or C chemicals in the gene which causes a change in the protein. Change can lead to diabetes genes that cause diabetes. You can actually map where the changes in genes occurred by going back to your family tree.
Dustin: So my grandmother cannot correct her diabetes genes?
Mr. Bruckner: No, Dustin, it is very important that your grandmother take care of her diabetes. If Type II diabetes goes untreated, it is likely that heart disease, blindness, and kidney failure will occur.
Dustin: I guess I'm genetically doomed to diabetes.
Mr. Bruckner: That's not true, Dustin. Even though some families have a great amount of diabetes in their family history, some will not have the disease because they didn't inherit the diabetes genes.
Dustin: How can I tell if I have the diabetes genes?
Mr. Bruckner: Today scientists are working on ways to detect the mutations that destroy genes. Scientists are also experimenting with cloning genes, so they can better understand their function. This research will let people know 20 years in advance where their genes are heading. You may not be able to overcome the genes you inherit, but you can still lessen the risk factors through nutrition and exercise.
Dustin: Well, gee thanks, Mr. Bruckner, for all your information. It sheds some light on where diabetes comes from. Now I can share this information with my relatives, so that they can help themselves prevent or manage diabetes. Have a nice day, Mr. Bruckner.