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Modifier Genetics: Genetic Variations Affect the Severity of Disease

Scientists at the Pacific Northwest Research Institute (PNRI) study modifier genetics to understand how gene interactions affect health. The role of modifier genes is to influence, or modify, the function of other genes.

For instance, single-gene diseases were once thought to be just what they sound like: If you inherit a single genetic variation, you will get that disease. It turns out, however, that not everyone with a single-gene mutation will develop the same disease. In some, the disease is life-threatening. For others, the disease is manageable and can even go unnoticed.

This variety is due, in part, to the influence of modifier genes. By understanding them more fully, we hope to find targeted therapies to prevent or change the severity of a disease, including some of our worst enemies — diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.

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