Understanding DNA - Types, Function and Structure
Humans, reptiles, and mammals oh my! Each are complex beings with more in common than you might think. Our earth is the host of vastly interconnected living organisms, ever-changing and expanding.
Humans have connections to common animals you probably see almost every day. Likewise, those animals have DNA connections of their own. Birds can even be traced back to dinosaurs, with chickens being the most genetically related! When we take a look at how humans and animals have evolved, we not only learn what we have evolved from but also gain insight into our health.
"DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any other software ever created.” - Bill Gates
Every cell in every living thing contains Deoxyribonucleic (DNA). It is the building blocks of genetic composition and decides an organism’s identity. Your DNA is hereditary and passed down from generation to generation.
DNA is used to study evolution by comparing the differences between species, showing how closely or distantly they are related. Research in humans shows that 99.9% of the DNA composition is the same. The remaining 0.1% is what creates our differences such as skin, eye, and hair colour, and likelihood of contracting different diseases.
Who We Share DNA With
It’s probably no surprise to hear that humans are most closely related to the ape family. Through genetic research, humans and members of the ape family are placed into the primate biological group. This primate group includes gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees, and bonobos. Among those, humans are most closely related to chimpanzees, sharing 98.7% of our genetic sequencing. Chimpanzees are even more closely related to humans than they are to gorillas!
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Ever wonder why mice are so helpful to us in the medical testing field? It’s because humans on average, share 85% of their DNA with mice!
The Abyssinian, a type of domestic house cat, shares 90% of their DNA with humans. 80% is shared with cows and 61% is shared with bugs such as fruit flies.
The common ancestor of all these mammals appeared before dinosaurs went extinct, over 65 million years ago!
Humans have even inherited traits from reptiles.
Yolk Sacs: In the womb as embryos, we have a yolk sac to provide nutrients. This is reminiscent of our egg laying past!
Hair: Reptiles actually grew hair before mammals! Reptiles first developed whiskers to feel in the dark, and then animals got hairier and hairier until the first mammal appeared.
Strong skin: Hundreds of millions of years ago, reptiles developed layered skin to help deal with the dry air on land, we then inherited the same kind of skin layering system.
EDA Gene: We haven’t inherited these traits from reptiles directly, we’ve simply inherited the genes that make them possible. The EDA gene controls many of these transformations such as how many teeth we have and their characteristics, how hairy we are, and our skin conditions.
Humans even share DNA with plants! More than 50% of our genetic information is shared with plants and animals in general. You might be surprised to learn that you share 60% of your DNA with a banana.
Although we have genetic similarities with other species, we are also at risk due to our differences. Zoonotic diseases are caused by germs that spread between animals and people. This can include germs such as viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi.
In many cases, an animal shows no signs of carrying these germs since they are unaffected by them. Scientists estimate that 6 out of 10 known infectious diseases among people can be spread from animals. Even more, 3 out of every 4 new infectious diseases in people originate from animals.
Some examples of zoonotic diseases include rabies, bird flu, and SARS.
Who’s at Risk?
Everyone is at risk for contracting a zoonotic disease however, some people tend to be more susceptible and can experience elevated symptoms:
Children younger than 5
Adults older than 65
People with weakened immune systems
How do these germs spread?
Direct Contact: This ranges anywhere from petting an animal to coming into contact with its bodily fluids such as saliva, blood, urine, or feces.
Indirect Contact: Coming into contact with the areas that the animal lives or the objects/surfaces where its germs may be.
Being bitten by a tick or insect.
Drinking or coming into contact with water that has been contaminated with infected animal feces.
Eating contaminated food, such as undercooked meat or eggs.
Humans are Susceptible!
Different animals contain various bacterias that prove harmful and often fatal to humans, which is why consuming certain animals can be dangerous. Many cultures consume reptiles like snakes and turtles, considering them delicacies. These meats however commonly contain salmonella and other pathogenic bacterias like Escherichia coli. In cases where reptile meat is going to be consumed, it should be frozen, just as other animal meat sources are, deactivating parasites. Proper cooking methods must also be taken to eliminate these bacterias. This is why it is so important to properly cook meats such as raw chicken, and thoroughly clean cooking spaces where raw meats came into contact!
Scientists are looking into all the possible origins of COVID-19, a coronavirus. One of these possibilities is being a zoonotic disease stemming from bats. Bats contain numerous coronaviruses and have already been directly linked to SARS. What we are experiencing now could very possibly be a natural evolution where the virus was transmitted from bats to humans.
Staying Safe! Prevent against zoonotic diseases by practicing the following:
Wash your hands after having any direct or indirect contact with animals
If you can’t wash your hands right away, use a hand sanitiser and then wash your hands when you are able
Prevent against tick and other bug bites
Prevent against animal bites
Practice safety when preparing foods, do your research to make sure you are handling and cooking your foods properly.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, not the most intelligent...it is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” -Charles Darwin
Newsletter by: Renée Schweizer
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