SCIENCE FOR YOUTH Unwinding the secrets of DNA By Hiya Islam

Illustration of rainbow DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) with defocus on background

Illustration of rainbow DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) with defocus on background

Deoxyribonucleic acid is popularly known as the DNA. I bet, you have heard that at least once in a lifetime. The DNA is like a maze. That is, it is highly sophisticated. And the scientists have decided to set foot in this maze. As time flew by, they have made it through the maze, if not completely to the exit. In other words, there is a whopping lot to discover about the DNA even after the great advancements made in science. Read on to find out what’s been dug out!

The DNA is crucial for the survival and existence of any living organism. It determines how every part of your body will form; eyes, nose, lips, hair and so on. More importantly, it controls the metabolism of the body. Attained from parents, it resides in the nucleus of a cell. The DNA from a cell is approximately 2 m long. The DNA of all the body cells combined would stretch as far as the diameter of our Solar System, twice! What enables such a macromolecule to live inside microscopic cells is due to super coiling with the help of special proteins known as histones. Super coiling is a pattern of folding the DNA follows and eventually ends up as chromosomes. Each cell of Homo sapiens aka humans contains 46 chromosomes.

Deoxyribonucleic acid is a macromolecule with a number of notable features. The DNA is, in fact, two long strands of polynucleotide held by hydrogen bonds between them. A nucleotide consists of nothing but a five-carbon sugar or a pentose called deoxyribose, a phosphate group and a nitrogenous base such as Adenine, Guanine, Cytosine and Thymine. It is between these bases that the hydrogen bonds form holding the structure together; two between Adenine and Thymine and three between Guanine and Cytosine. Another bond in the DNA is the phosphodiester bond that connects the nucleotides to one another.

The applications of DNA in real life are over whelming. One such application is the paternity test. Blood samples are collected from the child and the supposed father. As already mentioned, the DNA is hereditary. Results would show that half of the child’s DNA matches with its father. The other half would match with the mother’s. Another invention that took the world by storm is the ‘recombinant DNA technology’. This enables you to pick a part of DNA from one organism and put it in the DNA of another organism. In this way, it will allow some of the characteristics of the donor to appear in the receiver. Imagine genes for pink coloration in flamingos put inside cow DNA. Pink cows! Or something more rational, like, antibiotic producing plants which would drastically improve health of poverty stricken population.

Similar to the DNA, is the RNA- Ribonucleic acid. The RNA contains ribose in place of deoxyribose. Unlike its more commonly found counterpart, it is single stranded. Lastly, it never has the base, thymine. Uracil solemnly takes its place.

While a large part of the DNA remains unexplored, the future of the DNA has the potential to be our modern day elixir.

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