As we mentioned in our last article about the cell, the nucleus is a spherical structure in the centre of the cell that contains instructions on how to build nearly all of the body’s proteins. These pages of instructions are kept in tightly bundled strands of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid).
Your DNA is like the control panel to your body; it’s similar to a chief architect of a town.
No two people have the same DNA; each of
us has our own unique blueprint. Just like the mistakes an architect would make can destroy the integrity of an entire building, errors in human DNA can cause severely destructive conditions- which we know as diseases. These errors would indicate that at some point in our life, our DNA had mutated. But not all mutations are disadvantageous. Some mutations are what helped us evolve and survive as a race; others are simply what allow for there to be variety among humans. And just like a construction crew needs to prepare the site for the precise shape and size of the structure that is being built, we need to prepare a lifestyle that suits our unique genetic blue prints. Below we will discuss the structure of DNA and what it can tell us.
DNA takes the shape of a spiralling ladder. The basic building blocks to this stranded structure are molecules called nucleotides. Each nucleotide consists of 3 pieces: a sugar, a phosphate, and a nitrogenous base. The sugar and phosphate form the vertical panels of the ladder while two nitrogen- containing bases (one from each side) form the horizontal panels. There are four types of nitrogen-containing bases (Adenosine, Thymine, Guanine, and Cytosine). Just like the letters of an alphabet can be combined in various ways to form genes, the nitrogen-containing bases can be combined in different orders to create what we call genes. The numerous possibilities of sequences are what allow us humans to have different genes. The spiralling helixes of DNA are too long to just be stuffed into the nucleus. So, they are packaged neatly into tightly coiled chromosomes. Normally, every human has 23 pairs of chromosomes inside the cell’s nucleus.
Sequencing and Testing
Scientific technology can now be used to determine the order of bases in genes, chromosomes, or entire genomes. And as fascinating as this breakthrough is for the world of researchers, it also means that the general public now has access to a tool that helps them read their own genetic library. At times genetic tests can allow physicians to diagnose serious genetic disorders (like sickle cell disease), or determine whether a person is a carrier of a mutation that they can pass on to their children. But other times genetic tests can reveal whether or not a person is at a higher risk of more common diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome, or even breast cancer. Knowing this kind of information in advance is like receiving special powers to have more control over one’s own future health. People who find out they are at higher risk of a certain disease can tailor their life to minimize the risk of it occurring.
DNA is essential to life, and in short it is the most important code that you will ever have.
Your genetic blueprint will dictate your physical trajectory throughout life. And so, we must stay mindful of listening to and taking care of our body’s control panel.