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2008 National DNA Day Online Chatroom Transcript

This is just one question from an archive of the National DNA Day Moderated Chat held in April 2008. The NHGRI Director and many genomics experts from across NHGRI took questions from students, teachers and the general public on topics ranging from basic genomic research, to the genetic basis of disease, to ethical questions about genetic privacy.

Is it true that sickle cell anemia prevents malaria?
     William Gahl, M.D.: Studying rare inborn errors of metabolism through the observation and treatment of patients in the clinic and through biochemical, molecular biological, and cell biological investigations in the laboratory. His lab focuses on a number of disorders, including cystinosis, Hermansky-Pudlak syndrome, alkaptonuria, and sialic acid diseases. It's close to true. Sickle cell anemia itself is a bad disease that can be fatal, but you need two abnormal genes to have actual sickle cell disease. However, if you have one of those mutated genes, you are a carrier (or heterozygote, in genetic terms). Sickle cell disease occurs in areas of the world where malaria is prevalent, and researchers believe that this may be because CARRIERS for sickle cell disease were able to resist malaria better than other people. This "advantage" with respect to malaria (an often fatal infectious disease) would keep the sickle cell gene in the population, allowing carriers to marry and have children with sickle cell disease. Make sense?
Holy Family Catholic High School in MN (9th grade student)

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