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  • How does inheritance really work?

    inheritenceHow are genes passed from parent to child? Genes are composed of a chemical called DNA. The many, many genes needed for all the biological functions of an organism are found linked together in the cell on extremely long pieces of DNA, called chromosomes. Each human cell (except sperm and egg cells) has two copies of each chromosome, one from the mother and one from the father.

    What is DNA really? If you could look at it in detail, you would see that DNA has a ladder-like structure. The two uprights of the ladder are a structural backbone that supports the rungs of the ladder. Each rung is made of two chemicals called bases that are paired together. These bases are the letters of the genetics code, but the code has a small alphabet — only four letters. The different sequences of letters along the DNA ladder make up our genes. Biological machinery in the cell reads the genetic code of a gene in order to carry out that gene’s biological function.

    The information in DNA is used like a library. Library books can be read and reread many times, but they are not used up or given away. The library keeps them for others to use. Similarly, the information in the genes is read, perhaps millions of times in the life of an organism, but the DNA itself is never used up.

    The genetic information in DNA contains instructions for building molecules that implement all the biological functions of an organism. To make theses molecules from a gene, the information in the DNA is first copied, base for base, into a similar kind of information called RNA. The RNA copy of the gene acts as a messenger to get information from the DNA to the machinery where gene products are made.

    Mutations are chemical changes to DNA that produce variations in the genetic code. Mutations can be inherited from a parent, or may happen during the life of an organism due to environmental influences or other events. Mutations can cause gene products to be built differently, not built at all, or produced in incorrect amounts.

    Published on September 19, 2012 · Filed under: Genetics; Tagged as: , , , , , ,
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