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Since the movie “Jurassic Park” came out, DNA has become a household word. We hear about it on CSI and even on the news as a way to identify criminals. But what is it really? DNA is short for DeoxyriboNucleic Acid. If the breakdown of the acronym wasn’t helpful then read on and I will attempt to explain it in layman’s terms.

DNA is really code. In fact if it were computer code it would be a 3GB file. While that may not seem like an amazing number by today’s technology standards that would be akin to filling 200 New York City phonebooks with a 1000 pages each! Unlike our alphabet of 26 characters, DNA is made up of only 4 building blocks known as: Adenine, Thymine, Cytosine, and Guanine. To put the phonebook example in perspective, if each of these bases were only represented by their first letters to write that phonebook it would look something like “AATTCGACGATTACACCT”.

These building blocks or Bases are found in every living thing on the planet earth. This means that all of our cells have DNA stored in them. If we unwrapped all of it and made it into a straight line you could go to the moon and back 3000 times. Despite the large number of DNA code that we have, much of the code we have is the same.

While everyone has a unique genetic code (which is why it is admissible as evidence in court) that isn’t to say that it is mostly unique. In fact much of life shares some similar genetic code. For example humans and chimpanzees share between 94-99% of their DNA (genetic coding). Humans share fully 99.9% of their DNA with other humans. And perhaps the most surprising fact is that recent research shows that humans show a 1-4% similarity to Neanderthals meaning that at one time humans must have mated with them.

Without this coding there would be no blueprint for how our bodies are constructed and how the different parts function. Without DNA we would all just be a pile of molecules rather than a functioning, thinking, entity. It is the design and order that makes all the difference between living things and raw material inputs.

This blueprint or Genome has actually been mapped, but only in the most recent years. It wasn’t until 2003 that we had the final draft of the Human Genome. This means that we are just beginning to unravel the complexities of our genetic code with the hopes of both understanding and caring for human life.



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