We’ve all heard of the “nature vs. nurture debate.” This refers to the extent to which attributes such as health, intelligence or artistic ability are governed by inherent and immutable properties of our being, as opposed to the external factors that influenced our development.
The growing field of “gene-environment interactions” is, in a sense, a more recent variant on this old idea. Applied particularly to the area of human health, this field explores the ways that our genetic make-up influences our response to external health threats. Each of us will respond differently to health risks (e.g., infectious agents, cigarette smoke) based on our genetic make-up. Equally interesting, though, is the extent to which over time, the genetic make up of human populations changes as a result of natural selection of individuals whose genes confer a measure of protection from health risks.