Ingenious [The Documentary] [World Service]

Episodes

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01The Ginger Gene And Breast Cancer Gene20200722A particular version of the ginger gene MC1R underpins the fiery hair and freckled complexion of redheads, famed and feared in many cultures. But it is also linked to increased pain sensitivity and skin cancer risk. So where did it come from? And are redheads really endangered?

As far back as the 19th Century, doctors realised that some types of cancer seemed to run in families, but it was not until the last decades of the 20th Century that scientists started to pin down the genetic culprits. Faults in two of these genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, significantly increase the chances of developing breast, ovarian or prostate cancer – a fact that hit the headlines when actress Angelina Jolie announced she had had breast removal surgery to try and reduce her risk of BRCA1 related cancer. These genes and others like them are now at the cutting edge of cancer research, leading to revolutionary new treatments for cancer such as the unfortunately-named ‘PARP inhibitors’.

The origins of the ginger gene and the genes that can increase the risk of breast cancer

Investigating global developments, issues and affairs.

01The Ginger Gene And Breast Cancer Gene2020072220200726 (WS)A particular version of the ginger gene MC1R underpins the fiery hair and freckled complexion of redheads, famed and feared in many cultures. But it is also linked to increased pain sensitivity and skin cancer risk. So where did it come from? And are redheads really endangered?

As far back as the 19th Century, doctors realised that some types of cancer seemed to run in families, but it was not until the last decades of the 20th Century that scientists started to pin down the genetic culprits. Faults in two of these genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, significantly increase the chances of developing breast, ovarian or prostate cancer – a fact that hit the headlines when actress Angelina Jolie announced she had had breast removal surgery to try and reduce her risk of BRCA1 related cancer. These genes and others like them are now at the cutting edge of cancer research, leading to revolutionary new treatments for cancer such as the unfortunately-named ‘PARP inhibitors’.

The origins of the ginger gene and the genes that can increase the risk of breast cancer

Investigating global developments, issues and affairs.

A particular version of the ginger gene MC1R underpins the fiery hair and freckled complexion of redheads, famed and feared in many cultures. But it is also linked to increased pain sensitivity and skin cancer risk. So where did it come from? And are redheads really endangered?

As far back as the 19th Century, doctors realised that some types of cancer seemed to run in families, but it was not until the last decades of the 20th Century that scientists started to pin down the genetic culprits. Faults in two of these genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, significantly increase the chances of developing breast, ovarian or prostate cancer – a fact that hit the headlines when actress Angelina Jolie announced she had had breast removal surgery to try and reduce her risk of BRCA1 related cancer. These genes and others like them are now at the cutting edge of cancer research, leading to revolutionary new treatments for cancer such as the unfortunately-named ‘PARP inhibitors’.

The origins of the ginger gene and the genes that can increase the risk of breast cancer

Investigating global developments, issues and affairs.

02The Milkshake Gene And The Cyclops Gene2020072920200802 (WS)The Milkshake Gene - (LCTL) Are you dairy intolerant? If so, you’re not alone – more than 90% of people in some parts of the world are unable to properly digest milk, cheese and other dairy products. Most other animals are also unable to drink milk once they leave babyhood behind. So why did some of us evolve the ability to tuck into cheese, butter and cream with a vengeance? The answer lies in the history of human evolution and the early days of farming.

The Cyclops Gene - (SHH) Building a baby is a complicated business, with thousands of genes to be turned on or off at exactly the right time and in the right place. One of them is Sonic Hedgehog – named after the computer game character – which has its genetic fingers in all kinds of developmental processes. Sonic Hedgehog helps to decide how many bits you have, where they go, and whether you’re symmetrical, so it’s not surprising that any mistakes can have potentially devastating consequences. The most severe faults lead to ‘cyclops’ foetuses, while less serious changes are responsible for extra digits – like the reputed extra finger of Anne Boleyn, or Ernest Hemingway’s notorious six-toed cats. We take a look at the mind-bogglingly intricate process of creating a body, and the key role our favourite blue hero plays in making sure everything goes to plan.

Find out what you're made of \u2013 one gene at a time

Investigating global developments, issues and affairs.

Find out what you're made of \u2013 one gene at a time.

Take a deep dive into what you’re made of. Dr Kat Arney tells the unexpected story of a single bit of human DNA: the ginger gene, the milkshake gene, the breast cancer gene, and the cyclops gene.

People have never been so well informed about their DNA, with tens of millions of home genetic testing kits sold. But behind each of your 20,000 genes is a fascinating story - one that’s being added to every day, as genetics remains on the cutting edge of innovation.

Tapping into the current preoccupations with identity, health, and what connects us to each other, “Gene by Gene” is an idea so simple it’s just amazing it hasn’t been done before. Genetics and gene research gets plenty of coverage in the media, but this is the first time a major broadcaster has given a proper moment in the spotlight to some of the most interesting chemical threads that make up the fabric of life.

Combining history, archive, anthropology, comedy - and of course, lots of lovely science - we finally give these cryptically named but crucial substances the attention they deserve.

Find out what you're made of \u2013 one gene at a time.