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Sickle Cells

While normal red blood cells are round with a doughnut-like indentation to carry oxygen, the HbS gene causes the red blood cells to become abnormally crescent-shaped and rigid, like sickles used to cut wheat.

Credit: S2N Media



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Sickle Cell Disease (continued from previous page)

Sickle cell is a disease that affects the oxygen-carrying red blood cells. While normal red blood cells with HbA are round with a doughnut-like indentation to carry oxygen, the HbS gene causes the red blood cells to become abnormally crescent-shaped and rigid. Sickled red blood cells get caught in the body’s smaller blood vessels, blocking normal blood flow and causing severe pain and damage to the delicate tissues of the lungs, eyes, spleen, kidneys and liver. People with one copy of the HbS gene are "carriers" of the sickle cell trait and may experience some symptoms. People with two copies of the gene develop sickle cell anemia/disease, which can be deadly.

How does the sickle cell trait help people resist malaria? The malaria parasite gains entrance to the bloodstream through a mosquito bite and begins to destroy the normal round-shaped red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body. Many of the red blood cells of people with one copy of the HbS gene sickle. The sickled cell and the parasite are filtered out by the spleen and destroyed, lessening the impact of the parasitic infection. Therefore, people with sickle cell trait never have a high infection load that results in malaria.

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