The Generational Saga of The Vicious Gene

Researchers find a surprising type of heredity that can make a defect more serious in a child than in the parent

For more than a century, scientists have built upon the basic principles of heredity that Austrian monk Gregor Mendel gleaned from his painstaking studies of garden peas. One of the most strongly held beliefs has been that genes -- whether normal or abnormal -- are passed from generation to generation essentially unchanged. Now that assumption is being challenged. Last week scientists announced that in people with a form of muscular dystrophy, they had identified a segment of DNA that can lengthen substantially with each succeeding generation. Most disturbing, as the fragment lengthens, the illness becomes more severe. "This is not your...

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