What is DNA?

DNA is deoxyribonucleic acid. It is located in the nuclei of cells, which make up the body. Consequently, DNA can be considered as one of the building blocks of the body.

To understand the exact structure and function of the body, it is essential to know what a cell is and how it is structured.

The Cell

The cell is the basic structure of the body. The human body is built of billions and trillions of cells. Cells of various organs vary according to their function.

Each cell contains the hereditary material and can make copies of itself by reproducing and multiplying. After a specific life span, the old cells die off.

Parts of the cell are called organelles. Human cells contain the following major parts:

The Chromosomes

Within the nucleus, the DNA strands are tightly packed to form chromosomes. During the cell division, the chromosomes are visible.

Each chromosome has a constriction point called the centromere from where two arms are formed. The short arm of the chromosome is labeled the “p arm.” The long arm of the chromosome is labeled the “q arm.”

Each pair of chromosomes is shaped differently by the location of the centromere and the size of the p and q arms.

Humans typically have 23 pairs of chromosomes, for a total of 46. Twenty-two of these pairs, called autosomes, look the same in both males and females.

The 23rd pair is called the sex chromosomes and differs between males and females. Females have two copies of the X chromosome or XX, while males have one X and one Y chromosome.

The Genes

Genes are hereditary material that lies within the cell nucleus. Genes, which are made up of DNA, act as instructions to make molecules called proteins.

The Human Genome Project has estimated that humans have between 20,000 and 25,000 genes. Every person has two copies of each gene, one inherited from each parent. These are mostly similar in all people, but a small number of genes (less than 1 percent of the total) are slightly different between people, and this forms the basis of paternity tests and DNA analysis.

Where is DNA found?

DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the hereditary material that lies within the nucleus of all cells in humans and other living organisms. Most of the DNA is placed within the nucleus and is called nuclear DNA. However, a small portion of DNA can also be found in the mitochondria and is called mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA.

What is DNA made of?

DNA contains four chemical bases:


DNA base pairs

DNA bases pair up with each other, A with T and C with G, to form units called base pairs. Each base is also attached to a sugar molecule and a phosphate molecule.

DNA in humans contains around 3 billion bases, and these are similar in two persons for about 99% of the total bases. These bases are sequenced differently for various information that needs to be transmitted. This is similar to how different sequences of letters form words and sequences of words form sentences.

Nucleotides and the double helix

A base, sugar, and phosphate in combination are called a nucleotide. Nucleotides are arranged in two long strands that form a spiral called a double helix. This looks like a twisted ladder, and the base pairs form the ladder's rungs, and the sugar and phosphate molecules form the sides of the ladder.

How does DNA replicate itself?

The DNA can make copies of itself. Both the DNA strands open up and make a copy of each and become two DNA strands. Thus each new DNA has one copy of the old DNA from where the copy is made.

Mitochondrial DNA

The mitochondria contain a small amount of DNA. This genetic material is known as mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA.

Each cell contains hundreds to thousands of mitochondria that lie within the cytoplasm. Mitochondrial DNA contains 37 genes that help it to function normally. Thirteen of these genes provide instructions for making enzymes involved in energy production by oxidative phosphorylation. The rest of the genes help make molecules called transfer RNAs (tRNAs) and ribosomal RNAs (rRNAs) that help in protein synthesis.

Structural Hierarchy


Further Reading

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

Last updated Feb 15, 2021


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