Onwards and upwards with DNA 15



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It occurred to me that the surprisingly long strings of DNA each and every one of us has in every cell of our bodies must have started out as an infinitely short one. I don’t mean in your body or mine, I mean many, many millions of years ago, when uncountable numbers of lightning strikes stabbed into a thick ‘soup’ of chemicals, lying in the hollows of a landscape filled with nothing but igneous rock. The crucial inanimate mixture of chemicals, coupled with the lightning bolts, somehow made the chemicals animate, and life on earth had started, as single celled plants, similar to what we call diatoms today! Obviously, I’ve made up this scenario; I have no more idea than anyone on earth as to how life actually started here, but my guess is that it might have been something like this.

The resulting life form may only have grown to a few combined cells, with no real structure, just a quivering blob, but with a vital, short piece of DNA in each one, providing it with the first important instructions for future growth. Maybe this tiny blob was then able to absorb some of the very soup it had been formed in, so that it gained in strength, until each of the few cells that comprised it, suddenly split and the blob was twice as big as it was before! This could have gone on for several million years, until the blob had developed into some sort of shape, perhaps like a spirogyra or something similar, and all the while its vital DNA spiral was growing in length, as more and more detailed instructions were added, generation after generation.

At the same time I would visualise similar happenings, in tiny puddles, all over the young world, with life springing up everywhere, many of them with DNA messages that were radically different to others, so that the lifeline of each was different. Many millions of such occasions would likely not have worked at all, for one reason or another and so they died, while others succeeded, beginning the long, long pathway we know as evolution! It has taken billions of years for DNA to progress from that tiny stub, perhaps created by the flash of lightning, through numerous mutations, caused by the necessities of an ever changing environment, to the terrifyingly sophisticated molecules of the stuff we each have today.

DNA (short for deoxyribonucleic acid) is essentially just four chemicals, Adenine (A), Cytosine (C), Thymine (T), and Guanine (G). These base chemicals are apparently combined into pairs, making up the rungs of the DNA ladder, a double helix, for ever wrapping itself around itself, being added to and changed in every new generation. Deceptively simple, but one of the most powerful and wonderful chemical combinations on earth, and every living thing contains it, animal or vegetable.

Today, your DNA is supposedly about 4-feet long and there is a strip of it in every cell of your body. Seems unbelievable I know, but think of all the material you can now store on a 16GB memory card about the size of a ten cent coin, and you begin to realise what a lot of material can be stored in a very small space.

I’m actually writing about things here just for the fun of it, and I would be the first to admit I have little actual knowledge of them, apart from what I have read, or seen on the TV. So I’m hoping that someone much cleverer than me can give us a better understanding of how life stared and how we work – surely the most interesting subject for discussion in the world!


Have you ever thought about your DNA? What fascinates you about it?

Brian Lee

  1. I hear that even sceptical scientists are saying that the building blocks of life are so incredible, it could not have happened by chance!!

    1 REPLY
    • they believe the building blocks of life came here on comets and meteors, that is what started life off..life did not begin with humanity

  2. Science doesn’t want to acknowledge an intelligent designer. The deeper they are able to look, the more incredible life is.

  3. There is no question that most human evolutionary history took place in Africa. But by one million years ago—long before modern humans evolved—archaic human species were already living throughout Asia and Europe. By 30,000 years ago, the archaic humans had vanished, and modern humans had taken their place. I believe splinter groups of humans changed and mutated their genesto give us modern humans. We here by accident, not design. As Stephen Hawkings said..we are advanced great apes running the planet

    1 REPLY
    • I agree Elise – an awful lot can happen by chance, in the millions or even billions of years we are talking about!

  4. Interesting topic, I am sure there is still much more to learn about DNA, it is a wonderful achievement discovered by science in our life times

  5. I believe that the more advanced we get technologically the more of other awarenesses and abilities we lose. Early missionaries in Australia marveled at the tribesmen who would say, we go meet another tribe and set off for days and meet another tribe. How did they do that? Using abilities long lost by Europeans. Walt Whitman’s ” I am not all contained between my hat and my boots,” rings true to me. Even those tiny beginnings would have had more to them than can be seen.

  6. Good article, Brian, I enjoyed your précis on a massive subject. As you say, it was written for fun and, on that score, I comment.
    I loved the ‘typo’ at the end, “…better understanding of how life stared…” Not for one moment suggesting you are introverted, just laughed along with you in that one can’t be much more inward looking than observation of DNA!
    Thank you.

  7. As author of three family history books, I think about the magic of DNA quite a lot and, through research, marvel at how similar I am to people I’ve never known. Whenever reading on the subject I am disappointed that one of its pioneers, Ms Franklin, is never mentioned. I will always look forward to more research into this clever detective tool.

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