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What is DNA?

DNA, ordeoxyribonucleic acid, is the molecule that carries the body’s genetic instructions for reproduction, development, growth, and functioning. DNA is found in every cell of the body in the form of a double helix chain which instructs the cells on which proteins to produce.A DNA strand has four different bases arranged in different orders. These bases are T (thymine), A (adenine), C (cytosine), and G (guanine). 

Who discovered DNA?

Several people were involved with the initial discovery of DNA as we know it. Those individuals are James Watson, Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins, and Rosalind Franklin. Of the four scientists who first were able to isolate images of DNA using x-ray crystallography, only Rosalind Franklin was not honored with a Nobel Prize.

In addition to this discovery which was made in the 1950s, earlier research from Gregor Mendel, the ‘Father of Genetics’, and Swiss biochemist Fredrich Miescher was also instrumental in helping humankind realize the existence and importance of DNA.  

What is the difference between DNA and RNA?

While DNA replicates and stores genetic information, RNA works to convert that genetic information into a format that can be used to build proteins throughout the body. If DNA is the storage for all of our genetic history, then RNA is what reads that history, and uses it to construct the basic building blocks of our body.

Both are made up of nucleotides, but DNA is double-stranded, while RNA is made up of only one strand, which tends to be shorter than DNA strands. 

When does DNA replication occur?

DNA replication occurs during the synthesis phase every time a new cell is created. At the end of replication, there are two new DNA molecules that have the exact same genetic material as the DNA ‘parent’ cell that created them.

Replication occurs over three unique steps. First, the DNA helix unwinds and the bonds between each central base pair are broken. Then, the two single strands of DNA each create a new matching strand, which then join to form a new double-helix strand of DNA. Each of the new DNA molecules has one strand of ‘old’ DNA, and one strand of ‘new’ DNA.

What is the function of DNA?

DNA exists to serve as a blueprint for our genetic material, storing the instructions on how to create the components of each cell that our body needs to function and reproduce. This information is critical to not only our survival but also the existence of future generations.

Learn more about DNA:

Photo of Kristin Ricklefs-Johnson

Medically reviewed by:

Kristin Ricklefs-Johnson, Ph.D., RD

Kristin is an RDN who also earned her Ph.D. in Nutrition from Arizona State University with an emphasis on insulin resistance, lipid metabolism disorders, and obesity. She completed her post-doctoral fellowship at Mayo Clinic where she focused on nutrition-related proteomic and metabolic research. Her interests include understanding the exact mechanism of action of various genetic variations underlying individual predispositions to nutrition-related health outcomes. Her goal is to help all individuals prevent chronic diseases and achieve long, healthy lives through eating well.

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