Nature has produced an incredible solution to the problem of passing information down from generation to generation in a way that is both accurate and yet allows the creation of great genetic diversity from which natural selection can favour organisms with genes that make them well suited to the environment where they live.
The way DNA stores information provides two copies, one on each strand of a double helix (spiral) in a code that is almost universal in higher organisms and quite similar in more primitive organisms like bacteria. When cells reproduce, one copy of the information can be duplicated very accurately from each strand of the DNA molecule. However, sometimes the strands cross-over and produce a new sequence: This can happen when an egg is fertilised, for example, and is why we are NOT genetically identical to either of our parents, but are a mixture of the best bits from both 🙂
Another very important aspect of the DNA molecule is that it can repair itself if one of the ‘complementary’ strands gets broken. This is the way that the information in genomes has been conserved over millions of years from one generation to the next, but with the opportunity of making changes that allow species to evolve by natural selection.
Finally, the DNA molecule describes in great detail what we are as living organisms and studying the genome is one of the best ways to understand who we are, who we are related to and where we came from. In my case, from Europe just after the last ice age!
Brilliant question! DNA is the language of life, so to understand life in all it’s complexity we must read and study the genomes of animals. It is a huge task, because genomes are enormous and hold huge amounts of information, but modern technology is helping us to do this more quickly and efficiently than ever before. If you’re interested in understanding biological systems and why animals are the way they are it is important to learn about DNA, genes and genomes!
Genomes consist of DNA – which essentially codes for all of life! That’s a pretty cool thing to study – we can find about so much about a species’ population structure, their genetic ‘make-up’, and how this has all changed over time and between individuals. Understanding this, lets us work out how we can help protect, learn more, and further research our species!
My earliest memories are of watching ants in my back garden. In a way, I think we are all born as scientists- we make observations of the world and wonder what, why and how. As a child, I read a translation of Jean Henri Fabre’s “Social life in the insect world”. That made me decide that I wanted to study insect behaviour as a career.