The Inheritance of Disease

A Paradigm for the Inheritance of Behavior?
  • R. Grant Steen


We have learned a great deal about the heritability of various diseases in the last decade or two. Many of the major disease killers in the United States, including heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and atherosclerosis, are known to have strong genetic components, and the genetic basis of these diseases is now reasonably well understood. Perhaps the greatest increase in knowledge over the last decade has concerned the heritable nature of cancer.6 We now know unequivocally that individuals in certain families have an elevated risk of cancer because they have inherited a genetic susceptibility to the disease. But the idea that individuals can also inherit a susceptibility to certain behaviors still seems heretical to many. Nevertheless, inheritance of disease seems to mirror the inheritance of behavior in many instructive ways; the lessons learned from studying disease inheritance even suggest several strategies for studying human behavior.


Cystic Fibrosis Identical Twin Biological Parent Spontaneous Mutation Fraternal Twin 
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© R. Grant Steen 1996

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  • R. Grant Steen

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