A molecule of DNA is made up of a Deoxyribose sugar, a phosphate group and one of four nucleotide bases (adenine, guanine, thymine and cytosine). It is made up of two strands with complementary bases held together with hydrogen bonds.
The differences in the DNA of individuals in all species can cause variation in a population, leading to genetic diversity. A greater the number of alleles available in the population increases the diversity. However, this diversity can be reduced in many ways. One way, selective breeding, involves animals and plants being selected and bred in order to produce a population with desired alleles such as high egg producing chickens or high beef producing cows. This decreases genetic diversity as a smaller variety of alleles is available to subsequent generations, causing problems such as decreased resistance to disease.
As well as selective breeding, genetic modification is another way to change the genetics of a population to improve productivity and resistance to disease. However, whilst selective breeding would only result in ideal organisms over a long period of time, genetic engineering can alter a population in weeks. Genes are transferred between individuals to create ‘perfect’ plants and animals. An example is the genetically modification of tomatoes in which transcription of the gene for a tomato softening enzyme is prevented, stopping tomatoes from becoming soft. Animal modifications include modifying milk producers such as goats to produce proteins useful to humans in their milk, making it far more easily attainable in large quantities.
Researchers can use DNA...
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... are used to cut the fragment and gel electrophoresis is used to separate the fragments with an electric current. The double strands are immersed in alkali to separate them into single strands and a thin nylon membrane is laid over the gel in a technique called southern blotting. Several sheets of absorbent paper cover the membrane and draw up the liquid containing the DNA, transferring the fragments to the nylon membrane where they are then fixed with UV light. Radioactive DNA probes are added and they attach to specific fragments. The membrane is then placed on X-ray film and, as with genetic screening, the film is exposed where the radioactive probes are present, creating a print of the DNA. With this technique, samples of blood and hair at crime scenes can be compared with those of suspects and a child’s father can be identified by the similarities in their DNA.
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