Interesting Facts About DNA

5 Interesting Facts About DNA

DNA is one of the most exciting things we don’t yet fully know about.

It has helped us understand more about human history, opened up new opportunities in medicine, and led to a vast new consumer DNA testing industry.

Before you send your spit to 23andMe, how much do you know about this material that is present in virtually all living things?

For example, did you know that genes – the information contained within DNA–play a smaller role in genetic diseases than was once thought?

That’s something to think about as you get a health DNA test.

Here are five more interesting facts about DNA.

1. There’s Only a 0.1% Difference Between Your DNA and That of Everyone Else

DNA Facts

Every person is unique in terms of physical traits. Even siblings look different unless they are identical twins.

These variations arise from minimal differences in our DNA. All humans share about 99.9% of their DNA.

The remaining 0.01% is what makes you different from other people.

But it’s not that surprising considering that we share 50% or more of our DNA with many plants and animals –85% with mice, 80% with cows and about 60% with a banana.

2. Scientists are Clueless About A Big Part of Human DNA

Despite decades of research, we still know very little about human DNA. Researchers have no idea what many of the genes in your DNA do.

According to the New York Times, around 5,400 genes out of the 20,000 in our DNA have never been studied. In fact, only 2,000 genes have received the most attention.

The main reason is that scientists have to prioritize where to put their funding and grants. They direct it towards already-known genes.

This has dire consequences.

It means we are far from understanding the mechanisms of genetic diseases. It makes DNA health testing more or less a shot in the dark.

Sure, a 23andMe test might tell you that you don’t have the gene for breast cancer, but no one has any idea whether any of the thousands of unstudied genes can contribute to the disease.

The first breakthrough in DNA research was the human genome project almost two decades ago. It will probably take us several more decades before we fully understand how our DNA affects our health, traits, and behavior.

3. There’s a New Type of DNA…Sort Of

Hachimoji DNA

Hachimoji DNA

What do you know about the structure of your DNA?

It has two strands, known as polynucleotides, which form a twisted double helix. On these strands are four nitrogenous bases: A for adenine, T for thymine, G for guanine and C for cytosine.

A always pairs with T and G always goes with C, which ensures DNA maintains its orderly shape for easy encoding.

Now, a team of researchers has come up with a new type of DNA that they are calling Hachimoji DNA. Instead of the usual 4 bases, the modern DNA has 8 bases.

The 4 new bases the team came up with are unnatural, in that they created them in a lab.

What does this mean? Is the dawn of superhumans finally here?

Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you see it, no.

But the new DNA has been put to some great use.

It can store data, providing a new way to store information for centuries safely. Researchers also say that it can improve diagnostics of certain human diseases.

In fact, a six-base DNA the team made before they expanded to the 8-base DNA helped create a new more sensitive test for hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV viruses in blood.

In a bit of a Sci-Fi twist, researchers also say the new DNA opens up the possibility of different forms of life in the universe.

Since it’s been proven that it’s not just 4-base DNA that can create life, it’s likely that there are other forms of life.

If you were wondering, yes, this research was funded by NASA to help them find life beyond earth.

4. Genetics is Not to Blame for Most Cancers

You may have heard that getting cancer is as a result of ‘bad luck’; some stray gene that you got from your mum or dad.

While genetics do play a role in various diseases, we may have overestimated their impact on the development of different types of cancers.

According to the American Cancer Society, only a small portion of cancers are inherited.

Most cases of cancer–around 90-95% –are caused by lifestyle or environmental factors.

Even when a particular type of cancer seems to run in the family, there’s probably a lifestyle or environmental explanation such as smoking.

Experts do not recommend DNA testing for cancer unless you strongly suspect that the cancer is inherited – e.g., it has occurred in several generations, it occurs at a young age or is unusual such as breast cancer in a man or two types of cancers in one person.

At best, a cancer DNA test will give you no useful information. At worst, it might make you neglect to take protective measures if it tells you that you are not at risk.

5. It is the Next Focus of Privacy Debates

 Interesting Facts About DNA

Most people still don’t know much about genetic privacy. It explains why DNA testing companies are enjoying a boom in business.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t get your DNA tested, but it is essential that you balance between your privacy and the information you want to learn before you get a test.

Your DNA data is incredibly revealing. Someone can tell a lot about your health, ancestry, family, and appearance just from a single vial of your spit.

You may have heard it in the news–detectives are increasingly turning to consumer DNA databases to solve cold cases. That’s how the Golden State killer was caught.

Family Tree DNA, one of the most important DNA testing services, has been giving the FBI covert access to their vast database to help them crack cases.

23andMe are working with GSK, a pharma giant, to use DNA data to develop drugs.

All this has raised issues about privacy and potential abuse of critical DNA data.

Digital data has been the focus of privacy debates for the last several years. Your DNA is next.

About the Author Charles McKnight

I'm just another amateur genealogist investigating my American-Scots-Irish lineage. I built after buying all of the leading DNA tests to discover everything I could about my family history. Hopefully, this site will save you time and demystify the emerging science of DNA-based genealogy, for your family project.

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