The structure of the DNA was first discovered in 1953. Since then, scientists have rapidly advanced the application of this knowledge in the unraveling of the mysteries behind life and how to use them to solve human problems.
DNA is an acronym for DeoxyriboNucleic Acid – a long chain of molecules or nucleotides that is contained in your body’s cells where it instructs cells on which proteins to make. This DNA is the building block of the chromosomes which bear each person’s unique genetic codes. Each of your cells contains this same unique code and identifies you and your offspring. Each of your biological parents contributes half of your DNA.
The chromosomes which are found in the cell nucleus carry the DNA in the form of coiled strands. Each of these cells carries 46 chromosomes. When unwound and placed end to end, the chromosomes in a cell form a double-stranded helix about 3 meters long.
The DNA helix as popularly depicted appears like a spiral staircase or twisted ladder. The “steps” are made up of four bases: adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G), and cytosine (C), and are linked by hydrogen bonds to each other in specific pairs. This is known as the DNA sequence – an arrangement or template that defines our physical form, characteristics and body functions. These templates are neatly organized into units called genes. [source]
The Human Genome Project which was one of the most significant scientific breakthroughs of all times was completed in 2003. This massive project involved the decoding of the sequence of the entire 3 billion chemical bases that make up the Human DNA.
The Human Genome Project was carried out chiefly to provide a comprehensive and accurate sequence of the 3 billion DNA base pairs that make up the human genome. And also to identify all the estimated 20,000 to 25,000 human genes.
Additionally, the Human Genome Project aimed to create novel tools and procedures to extract and analyze all these data. And just as important, to make this information widely available and accessible.
This trove of data and tools has made it possible for scientists to fully harness the benefits of DNA testing and apply them to solve some critical problems that have bedevilled humans over the ages. DNA testing has proved useful in the diagnosing and treatment of diseases, solving crime with forensic science, improving agricultural yield, establishing paternity and tracing ancestry.
With advancement in technology, the cost of DNA testing has been steadily declining. This has led to a number of start-ups harnessing the power of DNA testing to help you live healthier and better. Companies like DNAfit, 23andme, and Kinetic Diagnostics now offer direct-to-consumer genetic tests. This tests are affordable and can be as simple as mailing your saliva to the company.
DNA Health Testing
DNA testing as applied to your health has two applications:
- preventing your healthy self from coming down with a health condition and
- caring for you if you are already suffering from a disease.
DNA health testing or genetic test can be used to determine your probability of inheriting a genetic disorder such as Parkinson's disease or breast cancer, by identifying subtle changes in your gene and structural protein. The results indicate your tendency to suffer from the same condition. If the results detect unfavorable genetic mutations, you have time to address it and make lifestyle changes. You can also begin early treatment if necessary. More so, if a close family member has been affected with a similar ailment in the past.
Although the presence of a genetic risk factor is not an affirmation that you’ll suffer a particular ailment, it raises your chances and being aware of this fact helps you to take preventive measures.
Secondly, DNA health testing for health has the potential to improve the diagnosis of conditions caused by changes in the DNA. It can also specify the most effective therapy or medication to better deal with the disease. Equally important, DNA testing can highlight treatments that have the potential to cause adverse reactions.This area of DNA testing is referred to as Pharmacogenetics.
Other applications for DNA health testing include:
- Screening newborns: it’s required by law in the US for all newborns to be tested for genetic abnormalities that could lead to certain conditions. This DNA testing is essential as it shows up such conditions like sickle cell disease, congenital hypothyroidism or Phenylketonuria (PKU), and preemptive care and treatment can be started right away.
- Pre-implantation testing. People attempting to conceive a child through in vitro fertilization use preimplantation DNA testing to screen for genetic abnormalities. Embryos free of defects are then implanted in the uterus with the hope they can successfully progress to a healthy pregnancy.
DNA Ancestry Testing
Genetic ancestry testing or genetic genealogy helps individuals interested in tracing their family roots to have empirical evidence of their ancestry beyond what they learned from historical narratives or documentation.
DNA testing for ancestry provides links between families and indicate where a person's’ ancestor might have originated from. This is possible because people of similar backgrounds share the same patterns of genetic variations. The closer families or group of people are, the higher the patterns of genetic variations they share.
People have always been fascinated by their origins. They often have an idea of their family genealogy which is usually handed down across the generations through oral traditions. And in some cases, there are documented evidence of where their ancestors came from. However, DNA testing is more reliable and has thrown up quite a few surprises as people discover that their ancestry might not be exactly as they had been told.
DNA testing for ancestry has helped lots of people to trace their roots, discover formerly unknown relatives, and some DNA testing companies even help connect people with their newly discovered relations.
The scientific community is still far from gaining a complete understanding of the complexity that is the human genome. However, they have established that exploring individual genetic differences can help you optimize your health as well as trace your ancestry amongst other applications.