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Germs & Genes

March 9, 2010

Our genes affect our vulnerability to different kinds of infectious diseases.


Germ-defense genes. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

You’ve probably heard that your genes affect your risk of chronic diseases, like cancer and Alzheimer’s. But did you know that they affect your vulnerability to infectious diseases as well? Rockefeller University immunologist Jean-Laurent Casanova addressed this at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He says that in some cases, a single gene variation can affect a person’s susceptibility to just one germ.

JEAN-LAURENT CASANOVA (Rockefeller University):
For example, CCR5 deficiency confers resistance to HIV, or interferon-gamma-receptor deficiency confers vulnerability to tuberculosis. One gene, one microbe – whether for resistance or susceptibility.

On the other hand, population-wide differences in resistance tend to relate to multiple genes. He says that in the future, new drugs may help plug holes in our genetic defenses. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.