A Study of the Genetics of Sickle Cell Anemia
Rosalie Dance, James Sandefur
Algebra, Elementary Functions, Probability
Sickle cell anemia is a genetic disease caused by a “defective” allele
(or form) of a certain gene. Each person has two alleles that
determine if that person has sickle cell anemia or not. If one of the
two alleles is the “defective” allele, then that person has sickle cell
trait. Sickle cell trait does not result in fatal health problems. Having
two “defective” alleles results in sickle cell anemia, a disease that
was, until recently, almost always fatal.
The allele causing sickle cell anemia is found most often in people
of African ancestry, but it also occurs in others, including persons of
Mediterranean, Arabian, and East Indian descent. Several different
alleles cause a group of sickle cell disease variants. To simplify
matters in this article, we assume there is only one type of sickle
Students will study the effect of the allele that causes sickle cell anemia on the survival of a population by using first a physical model and then a mathematical model. The goal is to understand how the genetic process is making the best of a bad situation.