QUIZ: Do You Know Which Features, Traits and Health Issues Are Inherited?

Alyssa Jung
·5-min read
Photo credit: filadendron - Getty Images
Photo credit: filadendron - Getty Images

From Woman's Day

Ever look at photos of your parents when they were your age and marvel at the resemblance? Or wonder why the heck you look nothing like them, even though you have half of each of their genes? Many of your individual physical features, personality traits, and health risks are inherited, but not all. Some are totally random, while others are influenced by lifestyle factors.

Take this quiz to see how much you know about how your genes impact the things that, well, make you, you.

Photo credit: Carlota Navarro / EyeEm - Getty Images
Photo credit: Carlota Navarro / EyeEm - Getty Images

Answer: Myth. Certain features are more likely to be passed down.

We all have two copies of every gene, one inherited from each parent. Still, some genes are more dominant than others, which determines the physical characteristics you end up with, says Catherine Waalkes, a geneticist and genetics product development scientist at CRI Genetics, a DNA testing company. “A dominant gene takes precedence over recessive ones, so that is what will be expressed if it’s present. For example, dark hair is dominant over blonde or red, and curly hair is dominant over straight,” says Waalkes. This explains why you got your dad’s dominant brown eyes and your mom’s dominant curly locks.


Photo credit: Trevor Williams - Getty Images
Photo credit: Trevor Williams - Getty Images

Answer: This is a fact—to an extent.

Athletic performance is influenced by both genes and environmental factors. Certain inherited genes determine things that impact your abilities, such as the number of certain muscle fibers that aid in strength. But factors such as your exposure to sports (did your family play yearly Thanksgiving football games or gather for jigsaw puzzles instead?), access to good coaching and facilities at school, and how committed you are to your sport have a very strong influence, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.


Photo credit: andresr - Getty Images
Photo credit: andresr - Getty Images

Answer: Myth—kind of. Her risk is not your risk, but yours may be elevated.

It’s not a given that just because your mom or dad has the BRCA gene that you do too: People with the BRCA gene have a 50% chance of passing it down to their children. And while yes, having the BRCA gene greatly increases your risk of breast and other cancers, that does not mean you will definitely develop the disease, says the National Cancer Institute. One large study found that 72% of women with BRCA 1 gene and 69% who inherit the BRCA 2 developed breast cancer by age 80. That means 28% and 31%, respectively, did not.

That said, if either of your parents has the BRCA gene, you may decide you want to undergo genetic testing to better assess your risk and decide how you want to handle it. Some women with the BRCA gene opt to have a mastectomy to lessen their chances of cancer down the line, but that’s not necessarily the only option, says Robert Nussbaum, MD, chief medical officer of Invitae, a genetic testing company.

“Having the BRCA 1 or 2 mutation does not definitely mean you should get surgery. It could mean increased screenings and screenings with alternative detection methods such as MRI in addition to mammography,” says Dr. Nussbaum. “You should work closely with your doctor to determine the level of risk for breast cancer and the best next steps, which varies greatly for each person.”

Photo credit: Chaiyawat Sripimonwan / EyeEm - Getty Images
Photo credit: Chaiyawat Sripimonwan / EyeEm - Getty Images

Answer: This is a bit of a trick question. They’re unique to you, but your parents had input.

Nobody else in the world has a fingerprint that’s identical to yours. But genetics do play a role in what yours ends up looking like. Your parents pass down genes that control the general shape of your ridges and curves, but all of the minuscule details (many difficult to be seen without a microscope) are totally unique to you, according to McGill University Office for Science and Society.


Photo credit: Tim Robberts - Getty Images
Photo credit: Tim Robberts - Getty Images

Answer: Fact, to a degree.

Research into personality traits is a bit trickier to study than physical attributes because the environment you’re raised in also plays a role, says Dennis Grishin, a Boehringer Ingelheim PhD Fellow in Genetics and Genomics at Harvard University and chief scientific officer at Nebula Genomics. “According to current estimates, genetics and environmental factors (e.g. upbringing, education, etc.) contribute approximately equally to determining your personality,” he adds.

That said, “the big five personality traits (openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) have a strong genetic component, he says.

Photo credit: knape - Getty Images
Photo credit: knape - Getty Images

Answer: Some of the tastes you love or hate are inherited.

If you’re one of the many who thinks cilantro tastes like soap, thank your parents. A study of nearly 30,000 people in the journal Flavour traced soapy-tasting cilantro to a specific gene that not everyone has, which explains why some people experience the herb’s normal flavor, and some find it distasteful. Other studies have uncovered taste receptor genes that influence sweet, salty, sour, umami, and bitter preferences.


Photo credit: JGI/Tom Grill - Getty Images
Photo credit: JGI/Tom Grill - Getty Images

Answer: Both are true. You can test for certain things, but you can’t predict everything.

If your doctor has mentioned genetic testing, she’s probably referring to something called a “carrier screening.” This tests for very specific genes, but not all genes that may contribute to later illnesses including cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease, and Tay–Sachs disease, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “Many healthy people are carriers of defective genes that don’t make them sick but can cause genetic diseases in their children, and a comprehensive carrier screen examines about 300 such genes,” says Grishin.

So, if you carry a defective gene that has the potential to result in serious health issues or major disability for your baby, you can find that out—but genetic testing isn’t able to tell you if your child’s health profile will mirror yours, or even if she’ll develop any specific illness for sure. But having a bit of information about your chances of having a child with a genetic disorder might give you peace of mind.

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