|Some DNA details. Apart from reproductive gametes, each cell of the human body contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, each a packet of compressed and entwined DNA. Every strand of the DNA is a huge natural polymer of repeating nucleotide units, each of which comprises a phosphate group, a sugar (deoxyribose), and a base (either adenine, thymine, cytosine, or guanine). Every strand thus embodies a code of four characters (A's, T's, C's, and G's), the recipe for the machinery of human life. In its normal state, DNA takes the form of a highly regular double-stranded helix, the strands of which are linked by hydrogen bonds between adenine and thymine (AÐT) and between cytosine and guanine (CÐG). Each such linkage is said to constitute a base pair; some three billion base pairs constitute the human genome. It is the specificity of these base-pair linkages that underlies the mechanism of DNA replication illustrated here. Each strand of the double helix serves as a template for the synthesis of a new strand, the nucleotide sequence of which is strictly determined. Replication thus produces twin daughter helices, each an exact replica of its sole parent.|
To Know Ourselveswas prepared at the request of the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Health and Environmental Research, as an overview of the Human Genome Project.