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Friday, April 15, 2011
ASA Takes Part in Recognizing National DNA Day
 

Brooklyn, NY - Led by the efforts of ASA Division of Health Disciplines professor, Dr. Pastor Cometa, ASA is a proud supporter of National DNA Day.  This year, April 15th is designated as a unique day when students, teachers and the public can learn more about genetics and genomics! The day commemorates the completion of the Human Genome Project in April 2003, and the discovery of DNA's double helix.

To learn more about National DNA Day and the National Human Genome Research Institute please click on the following link: http://www.genome.gov/.  You can also follow National DNA Day on Facebook by clicking on the following link: http://www.facebook.com/DNAday.

In recognizing this important day in science, ASA’s own Dr. Cometa, has written a paper with his own thoughts on National DNA Day, the importance of DNA research, and his excitement of ASA’s participation of National DNA Day.  Below is the paper written by ASA Division of Health Disciplines professor, Dr. Pastor Cometa.

DNA

The National Human Genome Research Institute is celebrating the National DNA Day on April 15.The National DNA Day is a unique day when students, teachers and everybody can learn more about genetics and genomics. This year the faculty and staff of the Allied Health Division of ASA Institute is joining in the celebration. The day commemorates the completions of the Human Genome Project in April 2003 and also the discovery of the DNA double helix structure by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953 that revolutionized the study of biology and genetics all over the world. It made possible the making of the recombinant DNA techniques used by today’s biotechnology industry and together with other advances promises to revolutionize the treatment of many diseases.

Like a scratch on the surface, let me briefly describe the digital elegance of the DNA molecule which continued to amaze me. As shown on the illustration, the DNA has a number of remarkable features. The outside is made up of ribbon like structures of phosphates and sugars, but what is interesting is the inside. The rungs of ladder are made up of four (4) chemical components called ‘bases’ A, C, G and T. Each of these chemical bases has a particular shape pictured as a twisting ladder, with each rung made up of one base pair. One can therefore think of the DNA as an instructional script, sitting in the nucleus of the cell. Its coding language is written in a strange cryptographic four letter code and this newly revealed text was 3 billion letters long. A particular instruction known as a gene is made up of hundreds or thousands of letters of code. All the functions of the cell, even in as complex an organism as ourselves, have to be directed by the order of letters in this script. At first, scientists had no idea how the program was actually ‘run’. This problem was resolved by the identification of   ‘messenger RNA’. The DNA information that makes up a specific gene is copied into a single stranded messenger RNA molecule something like a half ladder with its rungs dangling from a single side.  The half ladder moves from the nucleus of the cell (the brain of cells) to the cytoplasm where it enters into the protein factories of the cell called the ribosomes. A team of sophisticated translators in the ribosomes then read the bases coming from the half ladder messenger RNA to convert the information in this molecule into specific proteins made up of amino acids. It is the proteins that do the work of the cells and provides the anatomical structural tissues and organs of an organism. Let me share with you an example of a gene specifically translated for a jaw muscle protein (MYH16) that appears to have been decapitated or truncated in humans, but in other primates like the chimpanzees, this gene plays a significant role in the development of stronger and larger jaws. Is it possible that the development of weaker jaws paradoxically allowed our skulls to expand and accommodate our larger cerebral cortex, which represents a major component of the difference between us and the chimpanzees? This is clearly speculation of course, because other genetic changes would be necessary to account for these differences. As we learn more about this 3.1 billion letters long, the more we will be able to discover changes that evolved in our DNA imprint.

As I said, this is just a glimpse; ‘a scratch in the surface’ of the elegance of this life’s coding design, offering this generation and the future unlimited opportunities and possibilities. It is my prayer that in some little way I was able to contribute in the building of a firm academic foundation committed to a life-long learning here in ASA Institute which I cherish in my heart.

In conclusion, let me quote to you what Dr. Francis Collins, former Director of the International Human Genome project, and presently Head of NIH, said about the DNA.

What is DNA?

“It’s a history book – a narrative of the journey of our species through time. It’s a shop manual, with an incredible detailed blueprint for building every human cell. And it’s a transformative textbook of medicine, with insights that will give health care providers immense new powers to treat, prevent and cure disease.”

References: The Language of Life: DNA and the Revolution in Personalized Medicine (HarperCollins, 2010),www.genome.govwww.ASA3.org (American Scientist Affiliates Organization)