Sunday, November 1, 2020
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5 Weird Facts about Human DNA

Our DNA tells us who we are, but what else does it do? What information is contained within those double helixes that climb and climb and spiral round and round? Turns out, DNA is pretty damn weird, and that’s putting it mildly.

#1.      Your DNA is LONG

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Your DNA is so long that if you took the entire DNA from all the cells in your body (and there are so so many of them), it would stretch from the Earth to the Sun 600 times. After all, the DNA in a single cell stretches out to about 6 feet, and there are 100 trillion cells in your body, so the 150 million kilometre journey is, well, nothing really.

But if you did this, laid out all the DNA from all the cells, you’d also be dead, so don’t go trying it at home.

#2.      DNA may determine who you are attracted to

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Scientists researching the chemistry of chemistry (the romantic sort) have discovered that women are considerably more attracted to the scent of a man who has a significantly different genetic code than her. Which makes sense, given that we are programmed to want to keep the gene pool full of variation, but it does kind of take the romance out of things, doesn’t it?

#3.      Our genomes contain ancient viruses

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Along with the genetic material that determines who we are, our genomes also contain things called retroviruses – roughly 8 percent of our genome is made up of the buggers, ancient viruses rendered powerless by generations of mutation. In the genes of both humans and chimpanzees, scientists have found just such a virus called K111, suggesting that it infected our common ancestor, before we split off down our own evolutionary path.

But it gets super weird, because sometimes these inert viruses can become activated again. The ancient K111 virus finds new life in its host when the host is infected with HIV. Other retroviruses can also be reactivated, by HIV and other viruses that trigger cancer.

#4.      All non-Africans are part Neanderthal

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A recent study found that some of the human X chromosome comes from Neanderthals, but that this is only the case in people of non-African descent. This suggests that at some point in the past, humans and Neanderthals interbred, probably around the time they were both in the Middle East, having already left Africa.

The Neanderthals were capable of speech, had sophisticated music and art, and so would not have been unattractive mates to the humans of the time. After all, variability is important to the continuation of a species.

#5.      If you typed 60 words a minute, for 8 hours a day, it would take you 50 years to type up the human genome

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There are roughly 20 000 to 25 000 genes in our genome, so it is not surprising that it would take someone 50 years of work to type out the entire genome, even if they typed at a speed of 60 words a minute. Of course, it wouldn’t take them as long if they typed all day, but then they’d have to be paid overtime.

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