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Back when Gregor Mendel was studying pea plants, he noticed that there were certain characteristics, or traits, passed on to later generations. He called those traits "genes" because calling them "gregors" was a little too un-monk-y. Genes are traits that can be inherited; things like eye color, hair color, blood type, and colorblindness are all inherited traits that you receive from your parents. Unfortunately, being a vampire comes from being bitten by a vampire, so you cannot blame your folks for that mess.
The work of Thomas Hunt Morgan in fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster, booya) pioneered the concept that deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) encodes (read: codes for) these genetic traits. The discovery that DNA is the method by which genetic information is passed from parents to offspring is one of the most important in science in the last 200 years, excluding the iPhone app that makes you sound like a cat.
DNA is important for making you who you are. Are you feeling warm and fuzzy, yet? You are the exact product of the combination of your parents DNA, whether you like it or not. Understanding how this concept works will give you insight into what kind of person you are and will be. If you have a history of heart disease, cancer, or baldness, you can find out by looking at your and your parents' DNA. DNA is like high-tech fortune-telling that can make many predictions about how your life will turn out. Though, like fortune-telling, DNA can also be wrong. But, hey, at least you will not smell like incense all day.
Scientists use DNA technology to make super crops that are more nutritious and grow better than traditional crops—particularly for those unable to access food. And, super crops look great in tights. These "genetically modified" (GM) foods raise interesting ethical questions, such as "Are GM crops safe to eat?" and "How far should we go to ensure that everyone has food?" However, "Will scientists create a giant tomato that wreaks havoc on New York?" is a crazy question, unless you are in Hollywood.
DNA is also useful in forensics for identifying who committed a crime, or who the father is in paternity cases. Therefore, if nothing else, this unit will help you appreciate the twenty different CSI's and The Maury Povich Show far more than you would if you were ignorant of DNA's existence.
UCSC Genome Browser
Check out UCSC's Genome Browser. You'll remember that we went through an exercise using this browser earlier in the unit.
History of DNA
A fancy interactive timeline describing scientists' discovery of DNA.
NCBI Chapter on PCR
The National Center for Biotechnology Information was kind enough to let us read part of this book on PCR.
Human Genome Project: Cloning
To handle all the controversy surrounding cloning and the science behind it, the Human Genome Project has put out a FAQ to help answer the public's questions.
University of Utah Vector Toolbox
Something you can catch from your future dormmate? Or, a little-bit-cheesy interactive tool to help you understand gene therapy and delivery? Thankfully, the latter.
It's...a bit much. But, so educational! $20 says the song is stuck in your head the rest of the day.
Kinda-90s special effects? Check. Video game music? Check. What more do you need, exactly?
Another Take on DNA Replication
What's that you say? You want another video of replication? You got it! This one has cooler graphics, if we do say so ourselves.
A 3D animation that describes applications of recombinant DNA technology. No sound here!