DNA: For many people, it is prominently known or heard of when it has to do with paternity testing to determine if a person is the biological parent of another person.

This becomes necessary when the rights and duties of the father are contested because a child’s paternity is in doubt. DNA testing comes to the rescue! During the testing, the genetic traits of the child are compared to those of the mother. Traits that are inconsistent with the mother’s must have been inherited from the father. But what is DNA, how does it work?

Also known as Deoxyribonucleic Acid, it acts as the blueprint or recipe for living things. That is to say, the DNA contains in it something which acts as a plan, model, or template to show how some things ought to be done. Explained scientifically, it is a molecule; a bunch of atoms stuck together to form a long spiral ladder. In these spiral ladders are instructional codes important in determining the growth, reproduction, and health of living things. The information encoded in strands of DNA controls the genetic makeup – looks, behavior, and physiology – of organisms.

How It Works

To better understand how DNA works, it helps to understand the role amino acids play in its work. These tiny little chemicals in our body – amino acids – also known as the building blocks of life are very important to living things. Coming in various unique shapes, there are about twenty different kinds of them, and they have the ability to get attached to each other to form many varied protein structures. These protein structures plus some other chemicals combine to form living cells. These living cells make up tissues, tissues make up organs, and organs when put together to function interdependently with each other make living things – trees, animals, humans, etc. Now it’s crucial to point out here that these proteins which make our bodies, have to be formed in perfect shapes for them to function properly. In the wrong shape, they usually won’t work well.

You may be wondering, “What has all this got to do with DNA?” Aside from the other interesting functions of DNA – both known and unknown - one core function of it is to tell amino acids how to line up and form themselves into the perfect protein shape required.

For example, here is a simplified model of DNA. It shows the steps of the DNA ladder made up of four different kinds of nitrogenous bases: adenine (A), cytosine (C), thymine (T), and guanine (G) shown here in different letters and colors.



Looking at just half of the DNA molecule, one can read the genetic code from top to bottom and so it stands to reason that a single strand of it is extremely long containing millions of letters – codes – coiled up inside the nucleus of a cell. Outside the nucleus of the cell is the cytoplasm where the amino acids reside. To help the DNA interact with the cytoplasm and change them into protein, special chemicals inside the nucleus of the cell make partial copies of the DNA code. These partial copies of DNA codes are called RNA. They look like the original DNA only shorter with one part of the ladders missing. Their small sizes allow them to escape the enclave of the nucleus into the cytoplasm where they interact with a protein-building entity called the ribosomes which picks and reads the RNA codes – three letters at a time – and connects them into a chain according to the RNA copied codes. The chain as is formed long, bent, sticking together forms a perfectly shaped protein.

Once a protein is built there is no telling the number of things it could do, one of which could be to help build a brand new cell – the basic unit of all life.

 DNA and Everyday Uses

DNA, aside from helping to determine the paternity of a child also has a key feature in forensics and is the main component in many criminal investigations. Samples from Hair, skin, or blood can make all the difference between eliminating a suspect for a crime under investigation or narrowing it to a particular suspect, or proving the suspect guilty or innocent for a crime.

Ancestry tracking is another way DNA could be put to use. In aiding a person to know who their immediate ancestors are, DNA extraction can help a person understand the places their ancestors came from and have been over the journeying years of their lives.

And of course, for some medical conditions, DNA extraction is needed to officially diagnose it, even more, the case if the medical condition is genetic. Yet still, DNA is useful for developing vaccines to control and stop diseases.

Humankind’s discovery into the DNA world is not exhausted yet. That molecular spiral ladder yet has more secrets to divulge. As time tells tales, so the DNA world will tell more tales too.




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