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The DNA from a single mammalian cell is 5 feet long!



For Parents & Teachers 

    Soon, you will meet Gene and Polly, some of our guides through the world of DNA.  Young people may be bored with this page and are free to jump right to Gene and Polly.  But if you want to start here, let's get our bearings with an overview of:

     So, what is DNA, anyway?

     DNA is a long fiber, like a hair, only thinner and longer (except for Crystal Gayle's hair).  It is made from two strands that stick together with a slight twist.

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     Proteins attach to the DNA and help the strands coil up into a chromosome when the cell gets ready to divide.

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     The DNA is organized into stretches of genes, stretches where proteins attach to coil the DNA into chromosomes, stretches that "turn a gene on" and "turn a gene off", and large stretches whose purpose is not yet known to scientists.

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     The genes carry the instructions for making all the thousands of proteins that are found in a cell.  The proteins in a cell determine what that cell will look like and what jobs that cell will do.  The genes also determine how the many different cells of a body will be arranged.  In these ways, DNA controls how many fingers you have, where your legs are placed on your body, and the color of your eyes.

     So, what's the difference between DNA and a chromosome?

     A chromosome is made up of DNA and the proteins attached to it.  There are 23 pairs of chromosomes in a human cell.  One of each pair was inherited from your mother and the other from your father.  DNA is a particular bio-molecule.  All of the DNA in a cell is found in individual pieces, called chromosomes.  This would be like muffins.  Muffins are made up of muffin-matter and paper cups.  All of the muffin-matter in your kitchen is found in individual pieces, called muffins.

     So, why do you want to learn about DNA?

     If you have gotten this far, you already have some curiosity about DNA.  That curiosity may have come from hearing about it in the news or in the movies.  A revolution has occurred in the last few decades that explains how DNA makes us look like our parents and how a faulty gene can cause disease.   This revolution opens the door to curing illness, both hereditary and contracted.   The door has also been opened to an ethical debate over the full use of our new knowledge.  In the end, curiosity is the reason to learn about DNA.  Fittingly, curiosity is the driving force behind science itself.

     Now it's time to meet Gene and Polly.  Later, Gene will give us a guided tour of  how DNA is organized.  Polly will show us her role in making exact copies of chromosomes.


DNA INTRODUCTION:   For Parents & Teachers 


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