A Day for Deoxyribonucleic Acid
DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the hereditary material in humans and almost all other organisms. It carries genetic information which instructs how a living organism should grow, reproduce and function. Each human has unique DNA (except for identical twins) and this DNA can be used in a wide range of areas. From diagnosing genetic conditions in people, to helping forensic scientists to catch criminals, the knowledge we have about DNA is rather amazing and extremely beneficial to society.
Though the uses of DNA usually goes unnoticed, today is a day to be encouraged to learn more about genetics and genomics.
Many people believe the American biologist James Watson and English Physicist Francis Crick to have discovered DNA in the 1950’s. Though their research was groundbreaking, it was also founded on information provided by pioneers including Swiss chemist Friedrich Miescher who first identified DNA in the late 1860’s and Levene and Chargaff who carried out a series of research efforts which revealed details about the DNA molecule. These included information on its primary chemical components and the way in which they joined together.
Levene was a prolific researcher, publishing more than 700 papers on the chemistry of biological molecules over the course of his career. He is credited with many firsts, for example, discovering the order of the three major components of a single nucleotide (an element of a DNA molecule) and correctly identifying the way RNA and DNA molecules are put together. A nucleotide itself is made of a sugar, a base and a phosphate group. Each serves a purpose in the structure of a nucleic acid - like DNA or RNA. RNA is a molecule which is similar to that of DNA in terms of structure, but has a different purpose. Rather than holding genetic information, it translates the information to different parts of a cell to ensure the right functioning of the cell.
Watson and Crick are better known as their discovery was made possible by advances in model building. The two scientists initially used cardboard cutouts to represent the individual nucleotide units of DNA and shifted them around on their desktops, as though putting together a puzzle. Eventually they noted that there was complementary pairing between bases of nucleotides, and each pair of bases were held together by a force known as Hydrogen bonding.
Since the structure of DNA has been established, there have been even more advancements in research which has led to some amazing discoveries.
The Human Genome Project (HGP) was an international scientific research project which had the goal of determining the base pairs that make up human DNA and of mapping all of the genes of the human genome. A gene is a base sequence of DNA which codes for amino acid sequences (which form proteins) and RNA. It occupies a fixed location on a particular DNA molecule. A part of the HGP was to figure out the location of each gene. The project itself took 13 years and has now essentially given us the ability, for the first time ever, to read nature’s complete genetic blueprint for building a human being.
The challenge to researchers and scientists now is to determine how to read the contents of the HGP and use the different parts to discover the genetic basis for health and the pathology of human disease, with the intention of eventually being able to enable medical science to develop highly effective diagnostic tools. They should also be able to understand the health needs of people better, as it will be based on genetic make-ups, and to design new and highly effective treatments for disease.
Hopefully, this blog has inspired you to look into current research which is taking place, and to appreciate the delicacy of different organisms!