When you look in the mirror, do you ever wonder how our bodies know how to make us who we are?
The answer is DNA. This is a long chain of tightly wound up coded instructions which cells unravel, read and use to make proteins.
DNA is what all genetic information is made from, and in cells, chunks of DNA are arranged into 46 individual or 23 pairs of chromosomes.
DNA is structured in a double helix swirly ladder shape, and if you zoom in further, you’ll see it’s made of lots of units called nucleotides joined together, making DNA a big molecule or a polymer.
All this genetic information is called our genome!
Another point to note is that cells look at the double helix one small chunk at a time. This is called a gene.
One gene makes one specific code, such as hair colour! However, we're blonde or brunette because there are different versions of one gene called alleles.
And just as each of us has a unique allele cocktail for our appearance, we can use these to figure out someone's specific risk of disease, meaning that understanding our genome is important in healthcare.
But hang on, aren’t codes sometimes wrong? Of course! When there is a change in our genetic code, we call it a mutation.
Not all mutations are bad! Some can be useful, for example, if a dinosaur had bigger teeth, it made them better hunters!
Our DNA determines how we look and behave, making our phenotype, and you might be surprised to know that mutations rarely affect the phenotype very much, so we hardly ever see genetic changes!
Genetic technology involves changing the genes already in an organism, which causes some divided opinions in farming and medicine.
In farming, manipulating plants' genomes to produce more crops of a better quality that are resistant to insects seems like the solution to world hunger, but some people have had bad reactions to these new plants, such as allergies!
Gene technology is heavily used in IVF to make sure that the healthiest babies are the ones that are picked to develop, and in genetic testing, a human's alleles are checked to see their risk of getting certain diseases.
The benefit is that fewer diseases will be passed on, but is this playing God? Embryo research is highly controversial, and some people worry that IVF will be used to plan ‘designer babies’.
Now have a go at answering some questions about the genome and its impact on medicine!