History of DNA – What is DNA & How Was It Discovered? The human hereditary material known as deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, is a long molecule containing the information organisms need to both develop and reproduce. DNA is found in every cell in the body, and is passed down from parent to child. Although the discovery of DNA occurred in 1869 by Swiss-born biochemist Fredrich Miescher, it took more than 80 years for its importance to be fully realized. And even today, more than 150 years after it was first discovered, exciting research and technology continue to offer more insight and a better answer to the question: why is DNA important? What is DNA Made of? How Does DNA Work? Who Discovered DNA? When Was DNA Discovered? DNA is self-replicating material that’s in every living organism. In simplest terms, it is a carrier of all genetic information. It contains the instructions needed for organisms to develop, grow, survive, and reproduce. It’s one long molecule that contains our genetic “code,” or recipe. This recipe is the starting point for our development, but DNA’s interaction with outside influences such as our lifestyle, environment, and nutrition ultimately form the human being. While most DNA is found in the nucleus of a cell, a small amount can also be found in the mitochondria, which generates energy so cells can function properly. Perhaps the most fascinating part of the process is the fact that nearly every cell in your body has the same DNA. What is DNA Made of? DNA is made up of molecules known as nucleotides. Each nucleotide contains a sugar and phosphate group as well as nitrogen bases. DNA’s structure is a double-stranded helix, and it resembles the look of a twisted ladder. The sugar and phosphates are nucleotide strands that form the long sides. The nitrogen bases are the rungs. Every rung is actually two types of nitrogen bases that pair together to form a complete rung and hold the long strands of nucleotides together. Remember, there are four types of nitrogen bases, and they pair together specifically – adenine pairs with thymine, and guanine with cytosine. Human DNA is unique in that it is made up of nearly 3 billion base pairs, and about 99 percent of them are the same in every human. However, it’s the sequence of these bases that determines what information is available to both build and maintain any organism. Think of DNA like individual letters of the alphabet — letters combine with one another in a specific order and form to make up words, sentences, and stories. The same idea is true for DNA — how the nitrogen bases are ordered in DNA sequences forms the genes, which tell your cells how to make proteins. Ribonucleic acid (RNA), another type of nucleic acid, is formed during the process of transcription (when DNA is replicated). RNA’s function is to translate genetic information from DNA to proteins as it is read by a ribosome. How Does DNA Work? DNA is essentially a recipe for any living organism. It contains vital information that’s passed down from one generation to the next. DNA molecules within the nucleus of a cell wind tightly to form chromosomes, which help keep DNA secure and in place and store important information in the form of genes to determine an organism’s genetic information. DNA works by copying itself into that single-stranded molecule called RNA. If DNA is the blueprint, you can think of RNA as the translator of instructions written in the blueprint. During this process, DNA unwinds itself so it can be replicated. RNA is similar to DNA, but it does contain some significant molecular differences that set it apart. RNA acts as a messenger, carrying vital genetic information in a cell from DNA through ribosomes to create proteins, which then form all living things. How Was DNA Discovered? DNA was discovered in 1869 by Swiss researcher Friedrich Miescher, who was originally trying to study the composition of lymphoid cells (white blood cells). Instead, he isolated a new molecule he called nuclein (DNA with associated proteins) from a cell nucleus. While Miescher was the first to define DNA as a distinct molecule, several other researchers and scientists have contributed to our relative understanding of DNA as we know it today. And it wasn’t until the early 1940s that DNA’s role in genetic inheritance was even begun to be researched and understood. Who Discovered DNA?
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