What Is DNA?

By Mark Orwell

All living things have a special genetic makeup that is unique to their species. Animals, plants, single-celled organisms, and even some viruses contain deoxyribonucleic acid, also called DNA, which contains these genes. They are responsible in creating new cells and for holding the blueprints of the organism. Currently, geneticists are studying DNA in order to understand how to fight certain diseases, and also to figure out how to artificially replicate DNA strands in order to create cells in a laboratory setting.


DNA is one of the most significant parts of any living organism. It makes up the building blocks of all individual creatures and is directly responsible for all the traits of a creature. Color, size, shape, and any deformations that may occur are all a result of the unique DNA strands that are formed when the organism is developing. Through DNA replication, cells can divide and tissue damage can be repaired. DNA is also allowing scientists to help find cures for many genetic diseases or conditions that are prevalent today. Some examples of these genetic diseases, which are results of faulty or mutated DNA, are Down's Syndrome and sickle-cell anemia.


A single strand of DNA features two base polymers, which are simply long strands of protein molecules, that run in different directions, but parallel to each other, never crossing. Between them are the mess of genetic material that creates the unique makeup of an individual. These are formed by sugar molecules, which are attached to bases, of which there are four different kinds. The bases are simple molecules that are responsible for creating pairs with sugars, which attach to make molecules. These combine in various ways over and over again to create the entire DNA blueprint. These structures are called chromosomes, which are duplicated when cells divide.


DNA holds all the genetic material that creates the genome of an organism. When cells divide, DNA is read by RNA strands and then replicated. The needed DNA strands then fuse together to create a copy of the original DNA strand. When this is done, new cells are created, which will then build new tissues and so on. This is the most important function of DNA as it is what allows the body to heal itself over time and also is the process that takes place during pregnancy to create a new member of a species.


Friedrich Miescher was the first person to successfully isolate DNA in 1869. This began the study of DNA, and in 1919 the next major discovery was found. It was then that Phoebus Levene discovered the sugars, bases, and phosphates in the DNA. Later, scientists began to discover how these basic units fit together to create a long strand that could be "read." As the strands were studied, scientists found that segments of them could be read to represent certain traits of organisms. In recent times, DNA has been studied for genetic engineering.


DNA has a telltale shape that is taught as part of basic scientific knowledge in school. It is the double helix shape, which consists of two long strips, the polymers, which run parallel to and twist around each other. Connected to either end of these polymers are long strands of genetic chromosomes. In humans, there are 46 chromosomes that are made up of base pairs of various sugar and base pairings. These all combine to make a single strand of DNA, of which there are many in an organism.