Answers to submitted questions will be answered and updated hopefully on a weekly basis. Dave will try his hardest to answer in a timely manner. Some responses may answer multiple questions that I grouped together. Check out what other people have asked first! Your burning question might have already been answered! ---Science Penpals
1. Does a DNA strand need all of its components to be active? (Elias, New Mexico)
DNA is one incredibly complex set of instructions, so it's a great question to ask how much of it is actually needed to work. Many research teams all over the world are working very hard to answer this very question. The answer seems to be it depends. Some parts of your DNA are necessary for your cells to live or behave correctly, and any changes to them are very dangerous. On the other hand, we don't know the function of some parts of your DNA, and changes to them don't have much effect on your cells. So it depends on which parts of the DNA you may be missing.
Genes are simply sections of your DNA– about 2% of your genome is made of genes. These genes are scattered around the genome, and they are the instructions for your cells to make the protein molecules they need to live and do things. Through studying the differences in the DNA between people, researchers have found that many people have sections of their DNA that are missing or are actually duplicated and present in multiple copies. If these deletions or duplications overlap genes, there is a good chance this person's cells can't work right, which can lead to a variety of diseases. For example, most cases of Duchenne muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis are known to be caused by specific deletions within important genes. But not all deletions turn out to be bad. Other research has found that there are over 100 genes can be entirely deleted without causing disease. And one cool study showed that some deletions in early humans may have helped humans grow larger brains than our chimpanzee cousins!