Musings of a Political Scientist

Human Software – DNA Schematic Illustration

3D DNA Phosphate Structure by Bryan Brandenburg

Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA)

DNA is a nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions for the biological development of a cellular form of life or a virus. All known cellular life and some viruses have DNAs. DNA is a long polymer of nucleotides (a polynucleotide) that encodes the sequence of amino acid residues in proteins, using the genetic code.

Inheritance of DNA

DNA is responsible for the genetic propagation of most inherited traits. In humans, these traits range from hair color to disease susceptibility. The genetic information encoded by an organism’s DNA is called its genome. During cell division, DNA is replicated, and during reproduction is transmitted to offspring.

In eukaryotic cells, such as those of plants, animals, fungi and protists, most of the DNA is located in the cell nucleus, and each DNA molecule is usually packed into a chromosome that are passed to daughter cells during cell division. By contrast, in simpler cells called prokaryotes, including the eubacteria and archaea, DNA is found directly in the cytoplasm (not separated by a nuclear envelope) and is circular. The cellular organelles known as chloroplasts and mitochondria also carry DNA. DNA is thought to have originated on earth approximately 3.5 to 4.6 billion years ago.

Mitochondrial DNA and Y Chromosome Used for Lineage Studies

In humans, the mother’s mitochondrial DNA together with 23 chromosomes from each parent combine to form the genome of a zygote, the fertilized egg. As a result, with certain exceptions such as red blood cells, most human cells contain 23 pairs of chromosomes, together with mitochondrial DNA inherited from the mother. Lineage studies can be done because mitochondrial DNA only comes from the mother, and the Y chromosome only comes from the father. The migration of humans over the last 200,000 years was determined by the analysis of Mitochondrial DNA.