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Name: Nicholas
Status: Student
Grade:  Other
Location: N/A
Country: United States
Date: May 2007


Question:
How can you determine how the DNA bases figure the way we look and our actions, for example, I have the gene that makes me run fast.



Replies:
With so many discoveries of how some genes link to certain traits, many people (erroneously) believe there is a single gene for each trait we have (such as a gene to run fast). The link between DNA and traits is much more complicated than that. Many traits aren't genetic at all. A boxer's crooked nose is from fighting, not his DNA (probably). Other traits may be a combination of genes and environment. Other traits we simply don't know.

A DNA molecule is very complex, and how its information gets 'transformed' into a life form is even more complex. Certain sections of DNA (groups of DNA bases, as you said) can be translated into proteins. Other sections do not go into proteins. They might control how other sections of DNA are used, or they might not be used at all. Only some of our DNA actually turns into proteins. And, after the DNA is used, many changes can be made before the protein is in its final useful form.

One protein can affect lots of different traits. They all work together as a team. Imagine an American football team -- the quarterback might throw the ball, hand off the ball, run with it himself, or on a trick play he might catch it. He can also hold the ball for the kicker. Proteins are the same way -- they can do lots of different things. And, there are hundreds of thousands of proteins (not just 11 like the football team). So imagine all the sportscasters of the world arguing about why a team of 100,000 players won or lost a game -- that's kinda like scientists trying to figure out how all our genes work.

For some traits, we have a good idea of which gene controls a trait. For other traits, there is no single gene or protein than determines the trait. It's a combination of many. Like with your example, there are many, many traits that cause you to run fast, and only some of them are genetic. Your nutrition, how much sleep you got, your general health, etc. are all non-genetic factors that influence how fast you run.

Right now, we can look at a person's DNA and tell a few things, but we can't tell if they'll be 'smart' or 'fast' or 'pretty'. And, this is a big ethical dilemma too -- if we could predict all those things (or change them), would it be right to do so?

I mentioned a lot of different issues related to this question. I hope these are good starting points for you.

Burr


Genes (base pair sequences in DNA) code for the types and amounts of proteins and enzymes synthesized by the cells of an organism. Proteins form part of the structure of an organ or tissue and enzymes catalyze every chemical reaction that occurr in a cell.

Ron Baker, Ph.D.



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