Everything You Need to Know About DNA
DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the fundamental unit of the human genome. It’s the basis of our being and the molecule that carries the genetic information. That means it holds the instructions that determine the characteristics of each person. Therefore, many physical traits are determined by the instructions encoded in DNA.
An important concept when talking about DNA is the mutations that can appear in it. Mutations are alterations of the genetic material and can be of different types. Depending on where this mutation has taken place or the effect developed by it, our risk of suffering from certain diseases increases.
It’s important to mention that human beings share 99.9% of our DNA. What makes us different is contained only in 0.1%!
It was the Swiss biochemist Frederich Miescher who succeeded in isolating nucleic acid molecules in the late 19th century. Despite this, it took almost a century from that discovery for researchers to fully understand the structure of the DNA molecule.
Let’s take a closer look!
Where is DNA found?
In eukaryotic organisms, genetic material is found within a cellular structure known as the nucleus. Under normal conditions, DNA is organized into what is known as chromatin, which is only one of the minor packed degrees of this molecule.
On the other hand, mitochondria are cellular structures that all eukaryotic organisms have. There’s a small amount of deoxyribonucleic acid in them and what is found in the cell’s nucleus. The mitochondria generate the energy that the cell needs to function.
Meanwhile, in sexual reproduction, organisms inherit half their nuclear DNA from the father and half from the mother. However, organisms inherit all of their mitochondrial DNA from the mother. This is because only her eggs retain the mitochondria during fertilization.
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What is the structure of DNA like?
DNA is made up of basic chemical components called nucleotides. These components, in turn, include:
- A phosphate group
- A sugar group
- A nitrogenous base
The genetic material is organized into strands and to forms them. The nucleotides are joined through different types of bonds, forming double, complementary, and antiparallel chains. The four best-known types of nitrogenous bases that make up DNA are the following:
- Adenine (A)
- Thymine (T)
- Guanine (G)
- Cytosine (C)
The order of these bases in the sequence determines which biological instructions are contained in a DNA strand. A typical example could be the following: ATCGTT can give instructions for blue eyes, while ATCGCT indicates brown eyes.
On the other hand, RNA is another type of nucleic acid. It’s responsible for translating the genetic information of DNA into proteins.
When we talk about human beings, the complete set of DNA consists of 3 billion base pairs! They’re organized into 23 pairs of chromosomes, which in turn contain between 20,000 and 30,000 genes. However, this figure is still under study, since the data that have been obtained so far are not accurate.
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How are sequences used to make proteins?
Deoxyribonucleic acid instructions are used to make proteins. This fundamental process for biology happens in two steps.
First, enzymes and specialized proteins read the information in a DNA molecule and transcribe it to the intermediate molecule called RNA.
The information contained in RNA is translated into a specific sequence of amino acids, the essential components of proteins. Twenty types of amino acids can be arranged in different sequences to form different proteins.
At certain points in the cell cycle, some parts of the DNA unwind to carry out protein synthesis and other biological processes.
However, during cell division, genetic material is found in its most compact form. This presentation is called a chromosome and is necessary in order to transfer genetic material to new cells.
Professionals call the DNA from the nucleus of the cell nuclear DNA. Overall, they refer to the complete set of nuclear DNA in an organism as its genome.It might interest you...