What is DNA?

In order to understand genetic engineering, basic knowledge of DNA is needed. Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) is the blueprint of one’s entire physical structure. DNA is made up of four chemicals: Adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine surrounded by alternating chains of phosphate and sugar. Adenine always pairs with thymine while guanine always pairs with cytosine. The alternating phosphate and sugar is responsible for creating the double helix pattern most are familiar with from high school biology. The DNA is unwound in order to be read; the specific order of these pairs tells a cell to create a protein with a specific purpose (Utah).


Figure 2: DNA Structure. Source: Genetics Home Reference

How Does DNA Works?

Information in the DNA of the cell is transcribed into a transport molecule called messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA). The information now stored in the mRNA molecule is fed to groups of amino acids. Of the 20 different amino acids, a specific protein is made to support a function within the body (NHGRI). In order to copy itself, DNA splits down the center of the double helix. Since adenine always pairs with thymine and guanine with cytosine, the other half of the helix can be created. This allows DNA to copy itself to create enough genetic material to produce the traits specific to a certain organism. The process of replicating DNA is known to be fast and efficient. While this is true, mistakes can still be made in the copying process. These mistakes may lead to mutations that manifest themselves as diseases such as cancer. Chemotherapy is an effective treatment of cancer because it slows the rate at which DNA can copy itself, thus preventing the spread of the disease.