DNA: The blueprint of life.

What makes a particular information sensitive? Does it render the individual vulnerable and susceptible to discrimination? Does it divulge the history of an individual’s private details? Will it have bigger ramifications in his personal life? This list will never end if continued! These questions were put forth to bring in the idea of ‘ownership’.

There are many reasons why humans are procuring objects and information, one of it is to prevent the advent of debauched consequences. When multitudes of data are being extracted from millions of smartphones and accounts worldwide, where is the question of privacy?  

Our genome consists of Adenine, Thymine, Guanine, and Cytosine which are abbreviated as A, T, G, and C respectively. The structural units of DNA called nucleotides constitutes of quaternary codes (A, T, G & C) with nitrogen bases attached to a nucleic acid (deoxyribose) and are referred as Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid (DNA).

The arrangement of these nucleotides differs in each individual, thus making us different from each other. The surprising fact is that 99% of our genome is identical in the complete human species. The uniqueness is in the variation of that 1% which makes us different from each other. The importance of understanding DNA is still obscure to many. 

The importance of genome was demonstrated by collaboration based research during the advent of the Human Genome Project. This emerged as a momentum to following researches which further underscored the importance of genome. It led to a revamp in research where genetic studies were highlighted in every research effort dealing with the biological studies because it was indispensable due to its primary nature.

This paved path for tremendous innovation in the field of engineering and biochemistry for the development of affordable and reliable techniques for enhanced sequencing. The arrangement and annotation of DNA’s quaternary code were made more efficient and precise. To know about how DNA codes for proteins which are essential in driving almost all of the cellular functions and how it provides the traits or characters to an individual, I have attached an animation video which explains the fundamentals of protein production from DNA.  

I’m sure we can spend a few minutes of our time to know about the most mesmerizing and intensely dynamic constituent of life, the DNA as we are all stakeholders in this aspect. This is something which is happening as I type these letters and while you are trying to make sense of these letters. Ah! the very same way your brain is making sense of this particular sequence of alphabets and churning them into words and then into sentences, specialized proteins do the same with the letters of the genetic code {A, T, C, G ( REMEMBER?!)} and translating them into proteins which have their destined functions. But it is not as simple as that, it consists of other elements involved which involve the non-coding part of the genome which plays its own part in protein production and influence the features of an individual and will be dealt in detail in the subsequent posts. 

Now, to the niceties of matter. Essentially, a decade of innovation has led to affordable methods for decoding the entire sequence of an individual’s genome. It has potentially made it possible to unravel a number of mysteries surrounding genetic predisposition to diseases. This involves indicators which can inform about the vulnerability to a disease acquired through pathogens, metabolic diseases like diabetes, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s as well as psychological disorders including schizophrenia.

It has helped correlate the genetic elements to the physical aspects of a human body to an extent where using the genomic ‘data’, we can essentially extrapolate the likes of your physical being itself, predict your height, weight, eye color, skin tone and probably what your parents and babies would look like. Many essential nuances of the genomic arena haven’t been unraveled yet, but there is tremendous progress.

It is potentially life-changing for many, where a prenatal diagnosis can help presage the health of the baby and make vital changes to enhance the quality of life and in the near future eradicate genetic setbacks to provide a normal life for the ill-fated’. Drugs show a different physiological effect in every individual based on their genetic makeup and this has shown the domino effect leading to the establishment of a different field altogether, personalized medicine. American President Obama has even dedicated a specialized program called Precision Medicine Initiative under the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

From the above discussion, we can say that genomics is a potential driver to eradicate diseases As we know, nothing comes into this world with only pros. Likewise, in this case also it’s a double-edged sword as nothing comes without any compromise thus, we should consider the implications for wider application. Pharmaceutical companies are teaming up with academia to drive expansive efforts to sequence genomes of millions of people.

I am not trying to persuade a pessimistic approach towards these developments, but the gravity of the genomic information cannot be undermined. Imagine a world where insurance companies know about the kind of susceptibility a person has towards ailments and diseases, governments locking up people preemptively based on their genetic inclination towards crime and drugs. This outlook might seem fanatical but the sheer gravitas that must be given to this pristine niche must be appreciated. It has the ability to change the way humans interact with each other.  

We are talking about a sacrosanct ancestral property which has been literally passed down from thousands of years to each of us and we must not readily comply to reveal this information without rational proofreading and mulling over the consequences of such an endeavor. We must be able to weigh the ramifications and the utility of such a decision. We must strive for a transparent process where one who divulges his genomic information must be notified whenever the genome is being probed and only with prior permission, it must be utilized. An individual must be able to retract this permission to use the genomic information according to his whims. There is a dire need to raise the awareness quotient when it comes to this particular field.

Governments should work together and ratify a unifying policy approach to safeguard the genomic knowledge of the citizens of the world because there is nothing as sacred or important as one’s genome. It is the epitome of our identity and it must not be a victim of overreach. It must be given unprecedented relevance. Genuine awareness programs must reach the masses with lucid communication. But, by ensuring prevention of misuse, this quest of man to explore the enigma of life and its reverence towards this field will be accepted with absolute faith. People must be encouraged to take part in studies but through due process and complete autonomy, with the intention of good to humankind.

“What more powerful form of study of mankind could there be than to read our own instruction book?”
— Francis S. Collins

-BackYourScience Editorial


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