Monday, 4 November 2013

Buns & Bikes & Biochemistry Basics (part 1)

dress - Bonne Chance Collections | shoes - c/o Yeswalker | bike - Reid Cycles

With this bike, I successfully obtained Hipster level 9000 (I subtracted 1000 points due to my lack of square black-framed glasses - with them I would obtain the status of Ultimate Hipster. Too bad). I've been riding this beautiful thing around everywhere since I got it on Thursday, as you can probably see from the many bruises now adorning my legs (I bruise extraordinarily easily and am also pretty clumsy - not the best combination for bike riding, but I don't care!)

On the weekend, I rode to some fantastic second-hand markets where I also picked up this coat:
Which was a highly inappropriate purchase considering that it was a sweltering 30 degrees, and Sydney summers never require coats, but I couldn't help myself with its sailor-esque collar and cute white buttons.

Now, let's talk genetics!

Genetics and the basics of biochemistry take a long time to wrap your head around. Much of my love of science comes from actually understanding how things work. When you read science stories, you might be like, "yay! researchers discovered the gene for disease x!" and "scientists found that too much protein y makes you develop disease z!", and while that's awesome, without a background in molecular biology, you may also be like "...okay, but what does that actually mean?"

What the heck even are cells, DNA, genes, chromosomes and proteins?

So what I'm going to do in the next few posts is attempt to explain what these terms mean. I'm assuming no prior knowledge of anything biology-related. Today I'm going to explain cells, chromosomes and DNA. Let's go!

Your body is actually composed of units called "cells". Cells are little water-filled sacks that contain useful things needed to sustain life, including DNA. Take a look at your skin. If you could zoom right in on a single cell, using microscopic eyes, you would see something like this:
This cell actually looks like it's not very healthy, as it's been burst open on the left side and all of its contents are spilling out. Also, top-layer skin cells are usually actually dead cells without any DNA in them - skin needs to be tough, so this layer of cells often sacrifice themselves to become a tough outer-layer - but let's ignore that fact for the moment. Imagine that we're looking at skins cells a few layers of skin deep.

Cells make up most of your body - your organs, your bones, your brain - it's all made up of cells. And cells are pretty tiny, around 0.00001 - 0.00005 metres long.

However, in each of your cells - except for your red blood cells - you have 2 metres of a thing called DNA that is wound up really, really tightly. Remember how teeny tiny I just said cells were? So your DNA is wound up REALLY tightly to fit 2 metres of the stuff within every cell.

When DNA is all wound up like this, it's given the name "chromosome". A chromosome is really just a long strand of DNA, that's been wound around on itself a bunch of times. You have 46 chromosomes in each of your cells - 23 of these come from your mother, and 23 from your father. Each time a cell splits into two (which is how your body grows and fixes itself), it copies each of these chromosomes, and gives equally half to each cell it divides into.

DNA has written on it all the biological instructions needed to make you. These biological instructions come in the form of different molecules (molecules are things which are made up from a few conjoined atoms - and we'll get into that later) called "bases". Bases are what DNA is made out of.

In DNA, there are four such bases, and we give each a different letter: A, T, G and C. 
The way that these bases are laid out along the DNA provides DNA with a kind of "language" that the cell can read, and from that, make particular things. For example, if your cell's "reader" (called RNA Polymerase) reads the sequence ATGTCGCGGATG, they will say "Oh! Make some blood-clotting factors!" whereas CCAAGTGTGCA will tell your cell to make insulin (okay, so it's a little more complicated than that, and the sequences it reads are a lot longer, but that's the basic idea of DNA!)

Did you know that you can even extract DNA from cells and have a look at it - using household items? I wrote instructions on exactly how to do so a few months ago! Though remember - unless you have microscopic eyes, you're not going to be able to actually see those bases. To even begin to be able to do that, you'd first need an electron scanning microscope. To wrap your head around the teeny size of cells, and the size of something as small as DNA (even though you've got 2 metres of it in each cell, it's very, VERY thin!) check out this website: The Scale of the Universe.

Read part two here!

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  1. AHH you are the cutest! Got dat cute dna.


  2. How do you like your Reid bike? I have one that my lovely friends got me as a birthday present. I love the way it looks (mint green!) but it's probably not the one I would have chosen myself since they are made in China and I'm a bit disappointed with the quality. But ah well, it gets me around :) Also, do you wear a helmet over those buns? haha. I think you can get fined in Melbourne for not wearing a helmet... how boring!

    Love your blog! xx

    1. Oh, I find it really comfortable and super, suuuuper easy to ride, I'm in love with it! Though I didn't realise it was made in China - should have looked into that more. But I'm definitely not disappointed in the quality (thus far, I've only had it for 5 days so I'll report back if I notice anything amiss).

      No, a helmet doesn't fit over these buns. I have to take my hair down to put a helmet on (and my hair goes hilariously huge and frizzy and curly when I do, haha)

  3. this is such a scientific post. hahaha reminds me back to biology class.
    major crush on your dress. a bit like my school uniform only it's green checkered instead of blue.

    1. Haha, I often go to comment on how much I like a girl's dress, before realising that it's their school uniform!! Awkward. You must have a cute school uniform, though :D

  4. thank you thank you thank for explaining dna + chromosomes! I have my end of year biology exam in two weeks, and you've just covered in a couple of paragraphs what my teacher covers in an hour. Can't wait to see more genetic-related posts :)

  5. That coat is so cute! ♥

    You summed up biology in like, 2 paragraphs. I seriously learned more just now than I did in 9th grade biology.

  6. hola Annika! would you please consider doing a post of what your closet looks like? thanks :D

  7. Ahhh, you're so cute with the bicycle as an accesory! And you're giving me flashbacks to AP bio, haha

  8. "Cells are little water-filled sacks that contain useful things needed to sustain life, including DNA." This is the best and least complicated definition of cell I have ever read:D
    I had to check cell sizes on internet after reading this(not that i doubt you or your knowledge:) ) because being a chemistry student I am used to operate with nanometers or picometers, so cells now look so huge in my mind :D

    1. True! Haha micrometres must be MASSIVE compared to nanometres. They're what - 1 000 000 times bigger than picometres?

    2. Yup...just thinking that blows my mind :)

  9. I love your explination for cells! I'm so glad you're doing posts on the basics of science. After elementary school I had so much trouble with the more in depth science classes, but now that I'm in university I'm really starting to love it.

    And you'r bicycle is super cute. The yellow coat really goes well with it!

  10. How adorable are you and your little bike?!

    Xo, Hannah

  11. Throughout my time in science I have come to find that being able to explain science to people with a non-scientific background is something many scientists find hard, myself included. We get caught up in how complicated everything can be and forget our basics. I think this is a great post and a great explanation of basic DNA.

    Also your dress is adorable too!

  12. I love your gingham dress and beautiful lavender bicycle! Two things on my wishlist... :D


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