Genes, DNA, RNA, and Proteins: It’s All About Relationships
The structure, composition, characteristics, and behaviors of living organisms are determined by discrete entities inside them. At the helm of these entities is the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) which is composed of repeating units of deoxyribonucleotides. DNA is an elongate double-stranded helical molecule located inside a cell and aids in the storage of hereditary information. Genes are portions of DNA, which code for proteins while ribonucleic acid (RNA) is a single-stranded molecule that is formed from DNA and aids in protein synthesis.
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RNA is made up of ribonucleotide monomers, i.e., each monomer consists of a ribose sugar, a base, and phosphate backbone. DNA has deoxyribose as the sugar moiety. Proteins are polymers composed of amino acid units and have various functions in the body. DNA consists of genes (exons) and Introns (regions of unknown function). Genes are transcribed to form RNA and the RNA, especially messenger RNA is translated to form proteins.
What Do They Know About Genes, DNA, and Proteins?
To weigh the level of public awareness about the subject of DNA, gene, RNA, proteins and how they are interrelated, I interviewed four individuals. When I asked them what genes are, some said that genes are elements in our bodies that store information about our characteristics, others associated the term with gene therapy while one said he was not aware. About the connections between genes and DNA, one said that genes make up DNA. Another said “genes and DNA is one thing” while the rest could not determine the relationship. Concerning RNA, answers were rather amusing. Some said they remember coming across the term in school, but cannot recall what it is now. Others said RNA and DNA are the same and that they are responsible for making proteins.
The responses I got from some respondents were entirely expected, given the fact that many people during school life perceive genetics as a complex topic. However, I was encouraged by the responses I got from some who were aware of the subject. It is true that genes, being part of DNA, store information about our characteristics, and together with introns make DNA. Genes are thus not entirely the same as DNA as they are the only sections of it. DNA and RNA differ both structurally and functionally. DNA is a double-stranded helical molecule consisting of Deoxyribonucleotides, lacks uracil while RNA is a single-stranded molecule made of Ribonucleotides, uracil being among them. While DNA is a permanent molecule that stores genetic material, RNAs are transient molecules involved in the translation of this genetic information into proteins.
You Are Your Genes! True or False?
The statement “you are your genes” is virtually right because DNA is the basis of heredity and it is organized into genes. The hereditary information stored in the nucleotide sequence of the gene serves as “a reservoir of information for the biosynthesis of all protein molecules of the cell and the organism and also provides the information passed on to daughter cells or progeny” (Murray et al. 306). Gene expression, the process by which the genetic information is changed into RNA or protein, occurs within the environment of the living organism and accounts for an individual’s phenotype.
Unfortunately, genes may also cause or increase susceptibility to a broad range of medical conditions like cancers, especially when one inherits a mutated form of a gene from one of the parents. Genetics, in collaboration with the environment, bears a strong influence on “what we do and why we do it” through determining “when and how learning, growing, and development occurs” (Thomson 1).
The belief that genes are entirely responsible for one’s characteristics was held for a long time. However, recent studies on epigenetics and epigenomics have demonstrated that in addition to genes, the environment does influence ‘who we are’. Epigenetics and epigenomics are fields in genetics and genomics respectively. They are concerned with “the study of cellular and physiological phenotypic trait differences that are caused by outside or environmental factors that turn genes on and off and affect how cells read genes instead of being caused by changes in the DNA sequences” (Turner et al. 68). The environment influences our characteristics not independently, but by modifying our genes “through chemical groups that attach themselves to our DNA turning genes on and off” (Thomson 1). Environmental variables such as diet, culture, lifestyle, climate and physical accidents affect our phenotype.