DNA is probably one of the most – if not the most – important substance in creating complex life. Every single known organism uses DNA, and even some viruses use DNA as well.
Without it, we would probably still be in the earliest stages of developing life, long before single celled organisms even were things.
The thing is with DNA, due to its very nature, it changes depending on the species and organism.
For example, a human’s DNA structure is fairly similar to other great apes, with only a 1% or 2% difference, but the further you go down the family tree the less similar it gets, with rodents being only about 3% or 4% different from humans.
With this in mind, what is up with bacteria’s DNA? How different is it from our own? In this article, we seek to find this out.
What Is DNA?
DNA stands for Deoxyribonucleic Acid, and it is a polymer that is composed of two different polynucleotide chains that contain the same information.
These chains interact and coil around each other, giving them the double helix shape that DNA is known for.
The two strands of the DNA chain are made up of smaller, simpler monomeric units known as nucleotides.
Each of these nucleotides is then made up of four smaller nitrogen using nucleobases, deoxyribose – a sugar – and a member of the phosphate group.
The nucleotides in these chains are joined to each other using a system of covalent bonds, where the sugar of one of the nucleotides and the phosphate of the one after bind to one another, causing the entire chain to become a polymer phosphate backbone.
DNA as a nucleic acid is among a group of four major types of macromolecules, along with proteins, lipids, and complex carbohydrates, that form the basis and are essential to all forms of life.
Why Is DNA Important?
Quite simply, DNA is the instructional manual for your body.
It carries all the genetic information for how your body should grow, function, reproduce, and any other thing your body needs to do in order to keep you alive and moving forward.
Every single cell in your body that is a part of you will have DNA inside the nucleus of it.
This DNA will be interpreted by the RNA also dwelling within your cells and copy the information from the DNA and take to other parts of the body, so your cells know what to do.
The DNA is also responsible for carrying your genes. Genes are encoded information in DNA that determine the characteristics of a person.
This ranges throughout the body and changes every aspect about you.
Your eye color comes from genes, your nose size comes from genes, your toe length, your leg length, hair, skin, moles, ears, voice, everything comes from or is influenced by how what your genes say.
These genes are organized into chromosomes. As humans, we carry 46 chromosomes each, 23 from each of our parents, which is why a set of traits from both parents influences how we turn out.
This can change per animal, though, and sometimes not in the way you expect.
A fruit fly only has 8 chromosomes, but a king crab has 208, meaning they need more chromosomes to determine their growth, reproduction, and function.
Finally, DNA is also important to cell division. Cells need to divide to keep functioning in our bodies, but to divide they need to also divide our DNA and copy it.
The double helix shape and the DNA’s structure help this happen and by aiding in this division a cell won’t die, but replicate, thus keeping the body functioning.
Bacterial DNA Makeup
Bacteria get a bad rap when it comes to DNA, but that is because a lot of information based on the DNA of bacteria is found in a laboratory, which is not available to the public at large.
However, bacteria that live in nature are very diverse and have different DNA from one another. In fact, the bacterium that lives in your gut has DNA that is much different from the one found in a lab.
Unlike most animals, like the eukaryotes, bacterial DNA is not found sealed away inside a nucleus with a membrane. In fact, it resides in the cytoplasm of the cell.
The cytoplasm is basically the material in the space of the cell. For example, if the cell were a garden, then the cytoplasm would be the grass or the ground.
In the cytoplasm, bacterial DNA can be found in two places: in the nucleoid or just outside the nucleoid.
While the bacterial DNA is coiled, like other DNA, it does not form a helix, instead it is just incredibly tightly coiled in circular patterns in these areas.
Bacteria also contain something called plasmids. Plasmids are a genetic structure in the cell, similar to chromosomes, but they can replicate themselves independently of chromosomes or other materials.
Bacteria pick these up from other bacteria that they have consumed, or they pick them up from the environment.
Once a part of the bacteria, they will start replicating, and one tiny bacteria cell can have hundreds of different plasmids within them.
While the DNA structure within the bacteria is the one that helps with the day-to-day survival and function of the creature, it is the plasmid that really helps the bacteria survive stressful situations.
They contain only a couple of genes, but these genes can be the difference between life and death.
For example, say the bacteria can only survive outside the body for a few minutes, and it is sneezed out by its host.
If it has a plasmid that contains the gene for making a sticky capsule around itself allowing it to survive for a whole day, suddenly the bacteria may not just survive, but adapt and grow.
This is what makes bacteria, so adaptable and terrifying for humans, especially bacteria that cause disease.
Bacteria DNA has a completely different makeup to human DNA.
This is caused by the different genes that they have, the different stresses – be they environmental or otherwise – that they experience throughout their life, and the different structures that inhabit their cells.
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