Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What is DNA?

Deoxyribose Nucleic acid (DNA) is a nucleic acid present in the cells of all living organisms. It is often referred to as the “building blocks of life,” since DNA encodes the genetic material which determines what an organism will develop into. In addition to maintaining the genetic blueprints for its parent organism, DNA also performs a number of other functions which are critical to life.

This nucleic acid was first identified in 1889, when researcher Friedrich Miescher found a substance he called “nuclein” in human cells. In the early 20th century, several researchers including Phoebus Levene and William Astbury performed additional research on nuclein, beginning to understand its components, structure, and role in life.

Each DNA molecule consists of two long strands that are wrapped around each other. Because of this, the DNA structure resembles a double spiral “staircase” or a helix.

Each rung of the DNA ladder is composed of two substances, known as bases, which lock together. All in all, there are four different types of bases, and together they create four different kinds of rungs. The exact DNA sequencing of these rungs makes up a cell’s chemical information. This DNA information is vital since it shapes the cell’s development and regulates every single detail of how a cell should work. DNA contains chemical information known as genes. These genes are individual instructions in the code that tells the body’s cells how to produce new proteins.