Understanding DNA

Chitra Kannabiran

DNA The modern biological sciences whether biotechnology, molecular biology, genetics or cell biology have become increasingly visible in the common public realm through news items, weekly science features in newspapers as well as through films. One frequently hears or reads about criminal or forensic investigations involving DNA tests, Genetically Modified (GM) foods that are produced by modifying food products with some gene or another, cloning of animals, transgenic crops, terminator technology, new recombinant vaccines, stem cell therapies and so on. Or take the Human Genome Project itself and all the coverage it received in the print and television media. Children are consumers of these news items as much as adults and are captivated by movies like Jurassic Park, which talk about cloning an extinct animal from fossil DNA.

All of these developments have served to make DNA into a more ‘real’ and tangible entity than it would have been otherwise! They provide an opportunity to teach the science of DNA by connecting it with larger phenomena. To begin with, DNA can be introduced through the science of genetics thus linking two disciplines that students are exposed to. The train of concepts would be from trait (a character) to gene (a unit that specifies a trait) to DNA (the chemical nature of a gene).

The author is a scientist at the Kallam Anji Reddy Molecular Genetics Laboratory, Prof. Brien A Holden Eye Research Centre, L V Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad. She can be reached at [email protected].

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