While reading this unclear AP story about the genetics of autism (here’s a clearer version), it struck me that the word allele needs to enter alongside the word gene.
Too often, in popular accounts, we hear people say things like “she was diagnosed with having the breast cancer gene.” This is, of course, ridiculous. There is no breast cancer gene. Instead, some alleles of a gene make you more likely to get breast cancer (an allele is an alternative form of a DNA sequence that is located at a specific position on a specific chromosome).
This isn’t just semantics; I think if the word allele were used, it would make stories easier to understand and the reader more informed about biology. And we need all of the biological literacy we can get.