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Genetics FAQs

  1. Acne
  2. Alcoholism
  3. Allergies and Asthma
  4. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
  5. Autism
  6. Birth Defects
  7. Blood Type
  8. BRCA genes
  9. Cancer
  10. Diabetes
  11. Down Syndrome
  12. Eyes/Hair  
  13. Hearing Loss
  14. Mental Illness (Schizophrenia/Bipolar Disorder)
  15. Miscarriage
  16. Spina Bifida
  17. Traits (athleticism, creativity, writing, and math skills)
  18. What happens when new medical information is received about a donor or his offspring?
  19. What does autosomal dominant mean?
  20. What does autosomal recessive mean?
  21. What is a "carrier"?
  22. What is a chromosome?
  23. What is DNA?
  24. What is a gene?
  25. What is a mutation?

For questions about the following conditions, please refer to the Donor Screening - Genetic Testing page:

  1. Is acne genetic?
    Acne is very common among adolescents and the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) estimates that acne occurs to some degree in approximately 80% of all people between the ages of 11 and 30 ( Both genetic factors as well as environmental factors such as stress, hormones, and pollution can contribute to development of acne. It is not possible to predict whether or not any child will have acne, regardless of a family history of acne.
  2. Is alcoholism genetic?
    People often have concern about whether or not the offspring of an individual who suffers from alcoholism is at greater risk of becoming an alcoholic. While it is true that children of alcoholics are at greater risk, and alcoholism can appear to run in families, the exact causes of alcoholism are unclear. Currently, it is thought that a complex interaction between genes and environment play a role in shaping a person's risk for alcoholism. Genetic factors may include the rate at which a person metabolizes alcohol, or the differences in the type and number of certain brain receptors. Environmental factors can include the way children model their parent's behaviors and coping mechanisms, and the availability and pattern of alcohol use within a family or peer group. Currently, genetic screening is not available to predict whether or not an individual is at high risk to develop problem drinking patterns. More information about alcoholism is available through the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) at
  3. Are allergies or asthma genetic?
    Allergies and asthma are thought to be caused by a complex combination of environmental factors as well as some yet-to-be-identified genetic factors. Offspring of a person with asthma or allergic disease may have an increased risk to develop asthma or allergic disease; however, genetic testing is not available to determine whether or not the offspring of an affected individual will develop allergies or asthma. For more information, please see American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI)
  4. Is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) inherited?
    Attention deficit disorder, with or without hyperactivity, (ADHD) is the most commonly diagnosed behavioral disorder of childhood and occurs in 3-5% of school-age children. Symptoms may include inattentiveness, over-activity, and/or impulsivity. Fidgeting and not-paying-attention are normal, common childhood behaviors. Therefore, diagnosis of ADHD requires the presence of symptoms in multiple settings for at least 6 months with persistent and pervasive dysfunction due to these behaviors. The exact causes of ADHD are unknown although brain chemicals, genetics, and pregnancy complications may be contributing factors. ADHD has been shown to "run in families" which suggests that inheritance is an important risk factor. Between 10 and 35 percent of children with ADHD have a first-degree relative with past or present ADHD. If a person has a first-degree relative (parent or sibling) with ADHD they may have a higher risk than the general population to develop ADHD. A person can also develop ADHD even if they do not have a family member with this diagnosis. Please see the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) at, for more information on this diagnosis.
  5. Is autism inherited?
    Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder characterized by deficits in social relations, communication, and by the presence of repetitive, stereotypic, or obsessive-compulsive behavior. Autism occurs more frequently in males than in females. Although the genetics of autism are not well understood at the present time, it is likely that genetic as well as environmental factors play a role. Approximately 1 in 150 children has an autism spectrum disorder. It is not currently possible to determine an individual's chance of having a child with autism. Please visit the sites below for more information about autism:  
  6. Is there anything I can do to reduce the risk of birth defects in my baby?

    Every woman has a 3-4% chance to have a baby born with a birth defect, genetic disease or mental retardation, even if she has no family history of these conditions. These birth defects usually occur by chance and cannot be prevented. However, it is important for each client to speak with her physician and/or genetic counselor about her family history to identify existing medical risks to her offspring. Many clients may not know that they have an increased risk to have a child with medical problems unless they also have a thorough family history evaluation. You may also want to talk to your physician about having expanded genetic testing on yourself.

    It is also recommended that all women planning a pregnancy should take prenatal vitamins prior to conception and during the first three months of pregnancy.

    You can locate a genetic counselor in your area at

  7. Can I ensure that our baby has a blood type consistent with my husband's or partner's blood type?
    Visit our Blood Type Chart for more information on the inheritance of blood types.
  8. Why doesn't CCB test donors for the "BRCA" mutations?
    Mutations in certain genes such as the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, as well as several other genes, are known to increase the risk for specific inherited cancer syndromes. If a donor applicant's family history suggests a high risk for an inherited cancer syndrome, he is not accepted into our donor program. We do not perform genetic testing on the applicant for that cancer syndrome because the genetic testing may not be sufficient to detect the specific mutation in that applicant's family, if present. Furthermore, genetic testing for specific cancer syndrome can be misleading and falsely reassuring to CCB clients. Cancer is a very common group of diseases. Even if we tested an applicant for a specific cancer syndrome, it would not eliminate the risk for cancer in a donor’s offspring. This is because every individual in the general population has a risk to develop cancer due to many factors including normal aging, and sun and chemical exposures, etc.
  9. Is cancer inherited?
    Cancer is a very common group of diseases. All cancers occur as a result of changes in the DNA of the cells that make up the tumor. Most people who develop cancer acquire these changes in their cells over the course of their life due to the effects of aging and environmental factors; this is often referred to as "sporadic" cancer. However, approximately 5-10% of people inherit mutations that make them more likely to develop cancer compared to other individuals in the general population. People with an inherited mutation are more likely to develop cancer at an early age and are more likely to develop more than one type of cancer over their lifetime. They are also likely to have other family members who have developed the same type of cancer or a related type of cancer. Donor applicants' family histories are analyzed for these features of hereditary cancer syndromes. If a donor applicant has a family history that suggests a high risk for an inherited cancer syndrome, he is not accepted into our donor program. For more information about cancer, please see
  10. Is diabetes inherited?

    Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes or insulin dependent diabetes, occurs in about 1 in 300 individuals in the United States and Europe. It is usually diagnosed in childhood or adolescence but can also occur in adults. Individuals with type 1 diabetes lose the insulin-producing cells in their body through an autoimmune process. This means that the body mistakenly attacks its own cells and kills them. Both genetic and environmental factors are thought to contribute to the development of type 1 diabetes.

    Type 2 diabetes, also known as adult-onset diabetes or non-insulin dependent diabetes, typically occurs in older individuals. People who develop type 2 diabetes may have genetic factors that make them more susceptible to developing diabetes, compared to someone else in the general population, but these specific genetic traits are currently unknown,. Environmental factors such as obesity and lack of exercise are also believed to increase the chance of developing type 2 diabetes.

    Genetic testing is not available to determine whether or not a donor or his offspring are at increased risk to develop diabetes. However, our donors undergo a urine test and a blood test which can detect individuals who are already affected with diabetes. In addition, if a donor applicant has a family history that suggests an increased risk for diabetes in his offspring, he would not be eligible to participate in our program. Please see the American Diabetes Association ( for more information about diabetes.

  11. Is Down syndrome inherited?
    Down syndrome is a disorder involving mental retardation and other birth defects. Most cases of Down syndrome occur by chance but in rare cases it may be caused if a chromosome rearrangement is inherited from a parent. A chromosome analysis is performed on our donor applicants. An applicant would be excluded from participating in our program if he has a chromosome rearrangement that could increase the risk for Down syndrome in his offspring.
  12. Eyes:
    • What is color vision deficiency and how is it inherited?

      Approximately 8% of men and 0.4% of women have a color vision deficiency which is commonly referred to as "color blindness". In the most common type individuals have a hard time distinguishing between certain shades of red and green. Color vision deficiency is most often inherited as an X-linked trait.

      X-linked inheritance means that the gene causing this condition is located on the X chromosome. Women have two X chromosomes. If a woman inherits an X chromosome with a gene that does not work properly, she usually has a working copy on her other X chromosome and will have normal color vision. However, men have one X chromosome and one Y chromosome. The Y chromosome does not carry the same genes as the X chromosome, so men only have one copy of the gene that is responsible for color vision. Therefore, if a man inherits an X chromosome that is not working, the man would not have a back-up copy and will have a color vision deficiency.

      A donor who has color vision deficiency passes his Y chromosome to all his male offspring; the chance these boys will have color vision deficiency is determined by the X chromosome they inherit from their mothers. The donor will pass on his X chromosome to his female offspring. These girls will "carry" the donor's mutation but are unlikely to have color blindness themselves because they will inherit another X chromosome from their mothers. Therefore, the likelihood that any of the donor's offspring will have a color vision deficiency is very low. However, when the female offspring have children of their own, their sons will have a 50% chance of inheriting the non-working gene and having color vision deficiency.

    • Can a baby's eye color and hair color be predicted?

      No. The color of a person's eyes is thought to be the result of the interaction of several different genes. The amount of pigment and its distribution in the eye determines whether a person has brown, hazel, green or blue eyes. The common belief that blue eye color, for example, behaves as "recessive" to brown eye color is not strictly true. There are many families in which both parents have blue eyes, but their children have brown eyes. The opposite can occur as well. Hair color is inherited in a similar manner to eye color, with many different genes involved. There is no genetic testing that can be done to predict or select the eye or hair color of children. The chance of having a child with a particular eye or hair color cannot be estimated by knowing the eye and hair color of the parents or other family members, as the genetic aspects of both traits in humans is poorly understood.

    • Is good eyesight inherited?

      The development of the complex shape and structure of the eye is determined by the interaction of many genes that are inherited from both parents. Many different environmental factors are also thought to impact visual acuity. Because eyesight is such a complex trait that is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors, and because so many individuals require the use of glasses, accurately predicting the visual acuity of children is not possible.

  13. Is hearing loss inherited?
    Hearing loss can be caused by many factors including genetics, normal aging, or as a result of damage to the ears from long-term exposure to noisy environments. It is estimated that about 50% of cases of childhood hearing loss may be due to genetic factors, but the cause of hearing loss in many babies is unknown. Expanded Genetic Testing can help to identify if a donor carries a mutation for some recessively inherited disorders that involves hearing loss.
  14. Is major mental illness inherited?
    Neuropsychiatric illnesses, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, are considered to be multifactorial in origin. This means that while it is likely that people who develop these illnesses have underlying genetic traits that make them susceptible to developing these conditions, environmental factors are also likely to play a role in triggering these disorders. Currently, the specific causes of these illnesses are poorly understood, and there are no clinical genetic tests available that can predict a person's risk to develop these conditions. More information on mental illness is available from the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH)
  15. What causes miscarriage

    A miscarriage is a pregnancy loss that occurs within the first 20 weeks of a pregnancy. Unfortunately, miscarriages are very common. It is estimated that 20% of all pregnancies end in a miscarriage. There are many factors that may contribute to a pregnancy loss including genetic factors, health of the mother, and lifestyle. Chromosome abnormalities are a common cause of miscarriage. They usually occur just by chance in the developing pregnancy and are not inherited from either parent. Often, the cause of a miscarriage is unknown.

    You may learn that another client experienced a miscarriage of a pregnancy that was conceived using semen specimens from your donor. This does not mean that you will also experience a miscarriage if you use semen specimens from that donor. Each woman has a different experience with pregnancy. While one woman may have a loss, another woman may have a successful pregnancy using the same donnor. your health, age, uterine structure, and many other factors, which are all specific to you and your pregnancy are not the same as any other woman who use specimens of that same donor. Therefore, another woman's experience with a pregnancy from one of our donors should not be a factor in determining whether or not you should also use specimens from that donor for your own pregnancy.

    For more information about miscarriage, please see the March of Dimes website at

  16. What is spina bifida?

    Neural tube defects are malformations of the brain and spine that occur early in pregnancy. Anencephaly and spina bifida are specific types of neural tube defects. Anencephaly is a fatal condition that is the result of poor development of the skull and brain. Spina bifida is the most common type of neural tube defect and refers to malformations of the spinal cord and the bones that form the spine. The health impact of spina bifida varies from person to person. Some individuals with spina bifida are mildly affected and have few health concerns, while others have more severe problems that may include paralysis, loss of bowel and bladder control and learning difficulties.

    Neural tube defects occur as a result of both genetic and environmental factors. However, women who take a daily dose of 400 micrograms of folic acid (typical amount found in a daily multivitamin) prior to conception and throughout their pregnancy can significantly decrease the risk of having a child with certain types of birth defects such as neural tube defects. Studies have shown that folic acid use decreases the risk for neural tube defects by as much as 70%. Patients should inform their physicians if they have a family history of spina bifida because they may require a higher dosage of folic acid than for the average woman. You should speak with your doctor about the amount of folic acid that is right for you.

    For more information, see

  17. Are traits such as athleticism, creativity, writing and math skills inherited?
    All of the traits mentioned are considered to be multifactorial, meaning that it's likely that there is some genetic contribution, combined with environmental factors, which influence the expression and degree of expression of these traits. Currently, there is no way to predict or estimate a child's likelihood to express any of these traits based on the apparent expression of these traits in the parent. There is also no genetic testing available for these traits.
  18. What happens when new medical information is received about a donor or his offspring?

    The staff in our Genetics Department document all medical issues and updates received about a donor's personal or family medical history or an offspring's medical history.

    Donor Updates
    All donors are asked to inform us of new medical issues that may develop for their family members after they have retired from our program. Family history and medical updates reported by a donor are not added to the donor's long profile because it is a static document representing the medical history of the donor at the time he entered our program. However, clients are welcome to contact the Genetics Department to learn of any updates on their donor as they may want to include them as part of their child's medical records.

    Offspring Updates
    All clients are asked to inform California Cryobank if their child or fetus has a significant medical problem. One of our genetic counselors creates a confidential report on every medical issue reported. Each report is reviewed and discussed by our medical geneticist and medical director so that we can determine the appropriate management.

    In most cases the medical information collected does not represent an increased risk for medical problems in the donor’s offspring. However, in the event that we receive information that indicates a specific risk for a medical problem in other offspring of that donor, we attempt to contact clients to whom this information is relevant, as determined by the Medical Director.

    It is very important for all clients to keep CCB informed of any changes in their contact information so that we can inform you about any significant medical information that could be relevant to your child's health. Please update your contact information by logging into your account or by calling our Client Services Department at 866-927-9622.

    It is also very important for all clients to inform California Cryobank of their pregnancy and of their child's birth. You can report your pregnancy or child's birth online. If you have any questions or would like to make a report over the phone, please contact our Client Services Team at 866-927-9622. All information received is strictly confidential.

  19. What does autosomal dominant mean?
    The term "autosomal dominant" is used to describe one way in which a trait or disorder can be inherited or passed down in a family. If a disease is inherited in an autosomal dominant manner, it means that a person needs to inherit a mutation in only one copy of a gene (only from one parent) in order to develop symptoms of the disease.
  20. What does autosomal recessive mean?
    The term "autosomal recessive" is used to describe one way in which a trait or disorder can be inherited or passed down in a family. When a disease is autosomal recessive, it means that both copies of an individual's gene for that condition are not working properly because they have "mutations". One mutation is usually inherited from each parent.
  21. What is a "carrier"?
    An individual who has a mutation in only one copy of his or her gene for an autosomal recessive disorder is called a "carrier." People who are "carriers" do not usually have any symptoms of the disease because the other copy of their gene for that condition does not have a mutation and is able to function normally. Their main concern is that their offspring could develop that disorder if their partner is also a "carrier" of a mutation for that condition.
  22. What is a chromosome?

    Chromosomes are the structures in our cells that carry our DNA. We have 46 chromosomes in total. We typically inherit one copy of each chromosome (23 total) from our mother and another copy of each chromosome (23) from our father. We need a normal number and structure of our chromosomes in order to develop properly. If we have an abnormal number or structure of our chromosomes, we may be born with birth defects. In most cases, if an embryo or fetus has an abnormal number or structure of chromosomes, it does not develop properly and the pregnancy will end in a miscarriage. Chromosome abnormalties in an embryo are one of the most common causes of miscarriages in the first trimester.

    Most chromosome abnormalities in a pregnancy are not inherited from one of the parents. They occur by chance when the embryo is developing. Chromosome abnormalties occur more often in pregnancy as a woman gets older.

    Even though most chromosome abnormalities are not inherited from a parent who has a chromosome abnormality, at California Cryobank we perform a chromosome analysis on every one of our donor applicants to verify that they have a normal chromosomal complement. If a man has an abnormal number or structure of his chromosomes, he is not eligible to participate in our donor program.

  23. What is DNA?
    DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid. It is the hereditary material in humans and is packaged into structures called chromosomes. It is composed of a long sequence of molecules. Specific sections of DNA are called "genes."
  24. What is a gene?
    Genes are the basic units of heredity. A gene is a discrete section of DNA. Each gene has a specific role in our growth and development. If we have a mutation in the DNA sequence for a particular gene, it can cause health problems because it alters the normal pattern of growth and development.
  25. What is a mutation?
    A genetic mutation is a change from the normal sequence of DNA. This change typically has a negative effect on the function of the gene and may cause a person to have health problems. More information on basic genetics is available at

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