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MAKING THE MODERN WORLD
Stories about the lives we've made

module:DNA: Structure and function

page:Introduction


dna frontis

The Human Genome Project is now complete. We are the only species that can read our own instruction book: the genetic code. This code is nothing more than an enormous string of four components - A, T, C and G - spelling out, it seems, what it is to be human.

DNA, the double helix, describes the entirety of human genetic material, and is sometimes referred to as a 'common language' of life. But what does this mean, and why is DNA so important? How has it become one of the icons of the 21st century? This module uses text, images and activities to show what DNA is and how contemporary scientists think it works.


A scientist loading a sample of DNA into a centrifuge. picture zoom © The Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library

It could be argued that the simplest definition of life is anything that contains DNA (or its close relative, RNA), because these molecules act as the 'blueprint' for life's structures and functions. Explore the arguments further in the following DNA story.


STORY: What is life?
SCENE: What is life?
launch scene

Later, using interactive tools, you can learn how DNA copies itself - which helps explain why children look like their parents, and how DNA controls cells - which helps to explain why humans continue to look more or less the same.

DNA also produces problems. The tutorial explores how conditions are inherited, and why understanding DNA may one day help scientists understand genetically inherited diseases and also contribute to curing diseases such as cancer.

The module will also cover the new ways that scientists and industry exploit what is known about DNA to develop and alter forms of life for use in agriculture and medicine.

Lastly, you can read more about the history of the discovery of DNA, its 50-year past, and its fascinating structure in the following scene.


STORY: What is life?
SCENE: The structure of DNA
launch scene

Resource Descriptions

A scientist loading a sample of DNA into a centrifuge.
Person
Person
Icon
Icon
Guided Tour
Guided Tour
Scene
Learning Module
Scene
Scene
Scene