Our bodies are made up of millions and millions of cells. All the cells in our bodies contain genetic material called DNA which is packaged in structures called chromosomes. DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid and was first discovered in 1869 but was then made famous in the 1950s when researchers discovered the structure of the molecule.
DNA is made up of a chain of molecules called Nucleotides. Each nucleotide contains a nitrogen base, a sugar group and a phosphate group. Four possible nitrogen bases can be present in DNA; Adenine (A), Thymine (T), Guanine (G) and Cytosine (C). Human DNA contains billions of DNA bases. DNA nucleotides are attached together in strands to form a structure called the double helix, A pairs with T and G pairs with C. The double helix structure allows the extremely long DNA molecules to coil tightly and form the chromosomes, the chromosomes contain our genes.
Our DNA is divided into thousands of genes and our genes are the sets of instructions that tell our bodies how to grow and function. Each gene is used to make a protein, and proteins are what the cells use to perform their functions. The order of the four nucleotides that make up a genetic code is important. Variations or “spelling mistakes” in the genetic code could lead to disease and negatively impact your health.
Due to advances in research we are able to analyse the DNA sequence and help individuals and families understand what is going on with their DNA. This is not always a straightforward process but with the help of scientists and genetic professionals including genetic counsellors, you can find out if you are a carrying an alteration that can be passed on or if you are at risk for a genetic disease. DNA (genetic) tests can provide insight into your health and it is always recommended to discuss these tests with a genetic counsellor or genetic health care professional first.