Genes are the blueprints of life. Genes control everything from hair color to blood sugar by telling cells which proteins to make, how much, when, and where. Genes exist in most cells. Inside a cell is a long strand of the chemical DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). A DNA sequence is a specific lineup of chemical base pairs along its strand. The part of DNA that determines what protein to produce and when, is called a gene.
First established in 1985 by Sir Alec Jeffreys, DNA testing has become an increasingly popular method of identification and research. The applications of DNA testing, or DNA fingerprinting within forensic science is often what most people think of when they hear the phrase. Popularized by television and cinema, using DNA to match blood, hair or saliva to criminals is one purpose of testing DNA. It is also frequently used for other benefits, like wildlife studies, paternity testing, body identification, and in studies pertaining to human dispersion.
While most aspects of DNA are identical in samples from all human beings, concentrating on identifying patterns called microsatellites reveals qualities specific and unique to the individual. During the early stages of this science, a DNA test was performed using an analysis called restriction fragment length polymorphism. Because this process was extremely time consuming and required a great deal of DNA, new methods like polymerase chain reaction and amplified fragment length polymorphism have been employed.
The benefits of DNA testing are ample. In 1987, Colin Pitchfork became the first criminal to be caught as a result of DNA testing. The information provided with DNA tests has also helped wrongfully incarcerated people like Gary Dotson and Dennis Halstead reclaim their freedom.
Scientists say that the two great bubonic plagues — the Black Death (14th century) and the Plague of Justinian (6th century) — aren't connected after all, and were caused by different bacterial strains.
A new method for analyzing ancient DNA could help scientists distinguish the genetic material in ancient fossils from contamination caused by archaeologists who handled the bones, new research suggests.
Tiny marine microbes that are thought to play a crucial role in the planet's carbon and nutrient cycles are mysteriously shedding massive amounts of bacterial "buds," loaded with proteins and genetic information, into the world's oceans.
There's a large and growing body of evidence that psychological stress can cause genetic damage. But if stress can cause genetic damage, can stress-relieving activities like meditation and mindfulness training help reduce genetic damage?
Every now and again you might read about gene therapy and efforts to correct serious genetic diseases. But I’m betting that very few readers have had gene therapy, nor have they ever met anyone who has, nor will they ever meet that many.