All of these secrets and more are contained within your DNA. You have DNA in every cell in your body and it’s basically an instruction booklet that makes you, you, and well, not a chicken!
You’ve probably seen images of DNA blown up big, it looks like a multi-coloured twisty step ladder. The ‘steps’ of the ladder are the important bit, they are made up of two chemicals bonded together linking the two backbones on each side. There are four different chemicals found in our DNA that link to each other, we call them Adenine, Cytosine, Guanine and Thymine, or A, G, C and T for short.
Each of these chemicals can only link to one other, like a jigsaw piece. So A always links with T and C with G. You can think of DNA as like a language that is only made up of these 4 letters and the order of these letters can make a huge difference. These four letters write instructions for everything about you, some are only a few letters long and some could be hundreds of letters long. There’s an instruction to give you ears, feet or a stomach and we call these instructions genes.
In humans nearly all of our DNA is exactly the same as everyone else’s. There’s only about 0.01% difference between your DNA and other peoples, but it’s the 0.01% where things get interesting! This is where you might have some genes that other people don’t have, like a gene to give you brown hair, blue eyes or let you touch your nose with your tongue.
You will often share these characteristics with your parents, if they’ve got brown hair you will probably have brown hair as well. The same goes for other things like eye colour and the shape of your nose and whether you can roll your tongue. This is because we inherit half of our DNA from each of our parents. The bits of DNA you ‘inherit’ from your parents is what can give green eyes like your mum, or detached ear lobes like your dad.
When we think about all our DNA at once, with all of the instructions together as one big instruction booklet that make you, you, we call this your genome. And by looking at your genome, the NHS is starting to do some really interesting science.
At the moment they are collecting 100,000 genomes from people that have rare diseases (and their families) and patients with cancer to help diagnose and treat them as part of the 100,000 Genome Project. The aim of this project is to help kickstart genomic medicine in this country and help diagnose and treats lots of patients.
As part of this project, here at Eureka! we have teamed up with the Yorkshire and Humber NHS Genomic Medicine Centre to create some activities that show off the science behind genomics and how it might be useful for you in the future.
On May 11th we’re launching these activities and they will be running throughout the summer so come and see for yourself if you’ve inherited the gene that means you don’t like sprouts, make your own alien by deciding what they inherit from their parents, and extract the DNA from a strawberry!