Why are people today often taller than their ancestors? If you have blue eyes or red hair, does that mean your children will too? Is there an intelligence gene, or a gene that produces mass murderers? Or is it the family environment one grows up in? These are some of the questions Carl Zimmer explores in his new book, She Has Her Mother’s Laugh.
National Geographic caught up with Zimmer at Yale University.
…[Simon Worrall:] When I told my wife the title of your book, and that it was about heredity, she said: “I got my mother’s laugh and voice from being around her.” So, Carl, is it genes or the environment—nature or nurture—that make us who we are?
…[Zimmer:] I would be surprised if laughter had even 10 percent heritability. Genes you inherit may play a role in your laugh being somewhat similar to your parents’, but you’re also growing up with them and listening to them laughing, and we’re a very imitative species. There’s no way you could drill down and say we have identified that 10 percent of your laugh came from your DNA.
Certainly our genes are enormously important, but they’re not the only things that are passed down from our parents. I would argue that you should think beyond genes when trying to understand the full scope of heredity.
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