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HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED… WHAT IS DNA?

By: Efraim Harari



Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is a chemical found in the nucleus of cells which carries the “instructions” for the development and functioning of living organisms. DNA is often compared to a set of blueprints, since it contains the instructions needed to build cells. The parts of the cell where DNA is found are called genes.

The DNA sequence code in genes is what determines the type and function of each cell (whether it is a skin cell, a blood cell, a bone cell, etc.), as well as how each cell will perform its appropriate tasks.

All living things – humans, animals, and plants – pass DNA from parents to offspring in the form of chromosomes, the parts of the cell that carries the genes. In humans, 23 chromosomes are passed down from the mother and 23 chromosomes are passed down from the father, giving the child 46 chromosomes. Not all the genes of the parents are passed down to the offspring. For each child, different sets of genes are passed down from the parents, resulting in a unique DNA for each child. This means that even though the genetic code for all human beings is 99.9% identical, no one has the exact same DNA code, except in the case of true identical twins.

Because of this, DNA can be used to identify people in a variety of situations. DNA is often used to solve crimes by identifying victims and suspects, while at the same time ruling out innocent people as possible suspects for a crime. DNA is also used to prove or disprove family relationships, identify missing persons, and identify the victims of catastrophes who are no longer physically identifiable. And since DNA can be found in a variety of human tissues and fluids such as hair, blood, skin cells, bones, teeth, and saliva, it greatly aids in identification when other methods, such as fingerprints and teeth structure, are no longer usable.

Now that doctors at least partially understand how DNA works, modern medicine has made advances in identifying diseases and finding cures. Many diseases, like cystic fibrosis, are hereditary diseases, meaning they are passed down from parent to offspring. By looking at the DNA of an individual, doctors can determine what disease a sick person is suffering from, as well as how susceptible a person or their children are to having a particular disease. Doctors also study how cells with damaged DNA multiply, to help them find cures or treatments for diseases such as cancer and tumors.

Miles and Miles of DNA

If you lined up, end to end, each molecule of DNA in a cell, you would get a six-foot-long strand. And since you have about 100 trillion cells in your body, there are over a billion miles of DNA! The reason why you aren't stretched out so far is because of the DNA's unique double-helix shape (double spiral shape that looks like a twisted rope ladder), which allows the DNA to clump close together and take up very little space.

Factual Factoid

DNA was originally called “nucleic acid,” because it is an acid that is found in the nucleus of a cell. Then it was discovered that DNA is full of a sugar called ribose, so the prefix “ribo” was added, changing the name to “ribonucleic acid.” Then it was discovered that some nucleic acid had one less oxygen atom than normal. So, the prefix “deoxy” (“de” meaning to remove, and “oxy” meaning an oxygen atom) was added to describe this specific type of nucleic acid; hence the name “deoxyribonucleic acid,” or “DNA.”

Make Room for Gene

There are over 30,000 individual genes inside every single cell of your body!

Just Joking

Q:What was the patient’s reaction when the doctor told him that his DNA was backward?

A:“And…?”