What are genes? What are chromosomes? Explaining genetics to kids can be challenging. You can simplify these complex concepts into simple terms your child can understand by explaining the following:
Everything that is alive has genes that determine what kind of creature the living being is. Genes are tiny strings of chemicals that are the microscopic building blocks of life. Genes are, in essence, instruction manuals for each life form.
Genes determine if a living being will be a plant or an animal, and what type of plant or animal the life form will be, down to what color it is and what kind of skin, fur or feathers are on its body. Genes also determine the individual, unique characteristics a living thing has, as well as the personality traits it will possess.
Genes are combinations of four different chemicals called nucleotide bases. The four nucleotides are called adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine. Scientists simplify these into four initials, A,C, G and T, when they discuss genetic code. The different characteristics of a living thing are determined by the specific combinations of these four chemicals.
Chromosomes are long strings of gene codes. Some of these coding strings consist of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of individual genes, all strung together into a string of DNA. Human beings have 23 pairs of chromosomes, but some animals have more. A donkey actually has more pairs of chromosomes than a human being, with a total of 31.
Gene expression refers to how your genetic makeup shows through in your health, personality or character traits. For example, if you have blue eyes, your eye color is the gene expression of that specific genetic code. You might have a particular medical condition because of particular genes, and that medical condition is a result of gene expression.
It may help your child to visualize how genes and chromosomes work. Try showing a list of genetic code using the initials scientists use (A, C, G,T), and assign different traits to each code letter. Show your child how those strings of code can determine hair color, skin color, a tendency to get acne or fast metabolism. Talk with your child about all the countless ways a person can be unique, including personality, height, weight, body shape, coloring, vulnerability to illness, etc., and help hm understand that genetic coding is responsible for many of the traits that make each person a unique individual.
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