DNA is the biological code we inherit from our parents that makes us who we are. This code stores the instructions that make the building blocks of our bodies, including our gender, height, eye and hair color, and more. A single DNA molecule contains a pair of strands that twist around each other called a “double helix.”

DNA’s real name is “deoxyribonucleic acid.” According to MedlinePlus, just about every cell in your body has the same DNA. Most of it lives in what’s called the cell nucleus, but some live in what’s known as the mitochondria, or what scientists call “the powerhouse of the cell,” where it makes all its energy. 

How does DNA work?

The DNA we inherit from our parents is stored in units called “genes,” which are contained in chromosomes. We get half of our genes from our mothers and half from our fathers. The complete set of genes you have in your body is called your “genome.” 

If you think your DNA is very different from everyone else’s, think again. You share about 99.9 percent of your DNA with other people, and about half with animals and plants. 

In fact, it’s not your DNA that makes you unique, but the order in which it is arranged in your genes. Think of it like the alphabet, where you have 26 letters that can be recombined to form thousands of different words. The human genome contains 20-25,000 genes. On each gene, DNA is organized in four bases (A, G, C, and T). The order of these base pairs (known as a “sequence”) forms the building codes for your body. 

Who discovered DNA?

The American geneticist James Dewey Watson is largely credited with the discovery of DNA. In 1953, he co-authored a study with British molecular biologist Francis Crick proposing the existence of molecules twisted into a double helix structure, or DNA. The British chemist Rosalind Franklin, who ran an X-ray laboratory, helped prove their theory by making clear X-ray patterns of DNA molecules.

How to Celebrate DNA Day

DNA Day is a global celebration that commemorates the discovery of DNA, as well as the Human Genome Project, which became the first international research effort to map all the genes in the human genome in 2003. 

To participate, check out DNA Day’s website for some cool activities and events.

Also explore teacher resources available on IEEE TryEngineering.