National DNA Day started in 2003 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Watson and Crick's famous experiment determining the double helical molecule as being the source of genetic material and also to signify the completion of the extensive human genome project. Now, many entire genomes have been recorded and are being used in various ways to help people around the world.

As with every year, I have hosted a DNA Day art contest. The winner this year is Tantz Aerine with this intriguing piece:

Thanks a lot!

If you're interested in previous winners, see:
Kaj's successful attempt to draw WITH DNA!
Elina's twisting mutant DNA
Kitsune's knitting scientist

And don't forget the other contestants for this year. It was hard chosing a winner this time! I'm not just saying that, either. Every other year something really jumped out at me, but this time the competition was pretty equal!

So what is all the fuss about? Why should we care about DNA? What is the cause, exactly, for celebration?
The more we know about DNA, the more we can learn about our world. Why we're here, where we've come from, how to help ourselves live better in the future. And not only that, the fact that we ARE capable of finding out such amazing things is wonderful in and of itself. The code inside of us is starting to be unraveled for all people to understand plainly. The prospects are intriguing. The knowledge we are obtaining is amazing. If you think for a moment on the tiny molecules inside of you that have able to produce the capable creature which is you, then hopefully you'll start to feel the kind of pride and wonder that led me to create this website.

Here are some fun facts about DNA, taken from the DOE website:
The human genome contains 3164.7 million chemical nucleotide bases(ATCG).
The average gene consists of 3000 bases, but sizes vary greatly, with the largest known human gene being dystrophin at 2.4 million bases.
The total number of genes is estimated at 30,000 to 35,000.
Almost all (99.9%) nucleotide bases are exactly the same in all people.
The functions are unknown for over 50% of discovered genes.
Less than 2% of the genome codes for proteins.
We eat about 93,000 miles of DNA in an average meal.

The shape of the double helix is incredible enough that it has become a theme in various forms of art and architecture:

(Stairs in France, A window at CSU, A necklace made by Quill, Statue at CSU, fountain photos taken by Kaj, Sculpture from a museum in Finland)

Here are some amazing DNA-Related links to expand your mind with:
First, the Human Genome Project, the project that made me first fall in love with genetics. They have completed sequencing the entire human genome.
Second, a list of 8 large-scale genome sequencing projects going on RIGHT NOW! Looking through this list really opens one's eye to what kind of information DNA can provide us with and the broadness and complexity of it all.
Panspermia is a website with really intriguing and easy-to-understand articles about relevant DNA topics. If you're bored and want something interesting to read about, go here!
The Genographic Project takes a new look at human history in terms of migration and mutation of humans across the world. My grandfather's DNA was donated to this project, too! This is one of those sites that makes me proud to be human.

Now for some interesting DNA-related topics of the year.

First, when taking into perspective the prospects of how DNA will be used in the future, and letting the public's imagination run wild with it, it's brought about various fears of being judged and categorized by our DNA. There have been lots of awesome movies and books about dark futures where your genes matter more than what's in your brain. It's somewhat of a realistic fear that something like this could happen. In response to that, the U.S. has now made a public law called the, "Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008." It states that we can't be judged based on our DNA. Hopefully, though fun to read about in scifi, none of those dark futures will actually come in to existance.

Next, have you ever heard of parasitic DNA? Just as there are parasites and viruses that use other creatures to propogate their own existance, there are bits of DNA that do that also. I find this topic rather fascinating. There is no doubt that in our own genome, bits of DNA are being replicated not to serve us any purpose, but simply to reproduce themselves. Here is a book review that goes more in depth on that topic: The Dark Side of DNA

For a more in depth look at such kinds of DNA, check on the Transposon site on Wikipedia. This has really intriguing information about transposons, mobile DNA that can move around in the genome, and retroviruses. The woman who discovered this kind of DNA won a Nobel Prize for it. The topic is really fascinating and a little creepy. It makes you think a lot more about what goes on in your cells.

Finally, I'll end with my favorite quote:
"You know that somewhere there are squiggles in black ink that represent the notes to Beethovens Ninth Symphony but in no way does that diminish the grandeur of the symphony itself. And I don't think that the genome initiative diminishes the dignity of humankind. In fact, it may increase our appreciation for the Creator of all life. After all, Beethoven had 12 notes to work with, but the Creator had only four."
-Thomas Murray

Well have a happy DNA Day, you guys!

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