DNA: The Secret of Life

2003, Science  -  11 min Leave a Comment
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Deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, is a nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms (with the exception of RNA viruses).

The main role of DNA molecules is the long-term storage of information. DNA is often compared to a set of blueprints, like a recipe or a code, since it contains the instructions needed to construct other components of cells, such as proteins and RNA molecules.

The DNA segments that carry this genetic information are called genes, but other DNA sequences have structural purposes, or are involved in regulating the use of this genetic information.

1. The Secret of Life - The discovery of the double helix structure of DNA is to science what the Mona Lisa is to painting. It's been called the single biggest discovery of all time. But it wasn't just stumbled upon - it was a race. Specifically, it was a race between two teams of young scientists working in Britain, as well as the esteemed chemist Linus Pauling, based in California.

2. Playing God - In 1973, two scientists undertook an experiment that rocked the world. By transferring the DNA from one species to another, Herb Boyer and Stan Cohen became the first Genetic Engineers. Their experiment triggered a wave of controversy about the dangers of genetic manipulation, but it also generated a multi billion dollar industry.

3. Human Race - In the 1990s, the race to work out the structure of DNA fifty years ago was eclipsed by another race: to catalogue all the genes in the human genome. The rivalry became so bitter that Presidents and Prime Ministers had to intervene in an epic endeavor that would take over a decade to complete and cost millions of dollars. The story begins in 1990, when the Human Genome Project was launched to decipher the complete instruction manual of the human being.

4. Curing Cancer - Bud Romaine was diagnosed with incurable cancer in 1994. He was given three years to live. In 1996, a newspaper article caught his eye. The article described the work of a local doctor, Brian Druker, who was testing a new kind of cancer drug. In 1997, months away from death, Bud Romine became the first patient ever to take Gleevec.

5. Pandora's Box - We asked Jim Watson to give us a tour of the future. He believes DNA science should be used to change the human race. His views are both extraordinary and extremely controversial. Watson argues for a new kind of eugenics -- where parents are allowed to choose the DNA of their children - to make them healthier, more intelligent, even better looking.