Monday, September 29, 2008

JJNN Monday: Science - 09

Welcome again to JJNN for Monday September 29th, 2008. Today we will be talking about Japanese DNA.

Deoxyribonucleic acid. I love the way that it just rolls off the tongue. Sure it does not sound as cool as acetylsalicylic acid, but DNA is just a little bit more important in the grand scheme of things than aspirin.

DNA really is amazing. It is an extremely tiny nucleic acid, but it contains all the information that is used to make up what we are. It is the DNA that says that we grow up with two arms and two eyes. Thanks to DNA we are not a thousand armed cyclops (though if we all did grow up as thousand armed cyclopes we would think that thousand armed cyclopes were sexy). The basic shape of DNA is a double helix. You can see what it looks like below.

Notice that the two helixes are held to each with things that look like sticks. Those sticks are actually called nucleotides. I know that is a big word, but stick with me for the moment. There are only 4 different types of nucleotides: adenine, guanine, thymine and cytosine. So far so good, right? These nucleotides are complicated chemicals. They can only be around the ones they really love. For example Adenine would never be caught dead going with guanine and cytosine. Adenine will only make a pair with thymine. The same goes for guanine and cytosine. These pairs are called base pairs. (Yes, there are some times when these rules don't actually get followed, but I don't want to get into that stuff).

This leads nicely into the news story. You can see the original story here. It seems that some Japanese scientists processed the DNA of about 7000 Japanese people and found out that the genetic makeup of Japanese people can be seen to come from two different places. Some of the DNA is like that found on the part of Asia that is closes to Japan and the other part is found to be like the DNA that comes from the native people of Okinawa (an island group to the south of Japan).

I guess DNA analysis isn't really needed to figure that out. It makes sense in the end really. The two groups spread out to the nearest island and they find each other. They are not all that different in appearance any way so they mate and leave ancestors on that island that have that unique mix of DNA. History is full of stories like these.

The doctor that is in charge of the project says that there are only two major differences between the two types of DNA: the genes for hair and the genes for ear wax (yes there are genes for ear wax). The people that have the Asian mainland DNA have stiff hair and produce ear wax that is not so wet. The opposite goes for the people with the DNA from Okinawa.

This type of research is always very interesting. It helps people find out where their race came from in the first place. There is always so much that we can learn from this type of research. But, there is always precautions that we have to take with this type of research as well. It might seem a little far fetched, but I can see people being turned down for jobs or being bullied in the future because of what kind of DNA they were born with. A good example might be a type of medical insurance that will not cover people with a certain type of DNA because they are more susceptible to a certain type of disease. We have to be careful not to let something like that happen.

Any way, it is now time for the word of the day. Today's word is デオキシリボ核酸(でおきしりぼかくさん). It is pronounced deokishiribo kakusan and means DNA. I am always a bit wary of acids that don't burn things.

That's it for today. See you next time at JJNN.

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