A long conga line of people formed the double-human helix dance in the Physical Sciences Building to commemorate UC Santa Cruz’s third annual DNA Day.
April 25 marks National DNA Day, celebrating the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 and the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA in 1953. Hosted by the the Center for Biomolecular Science and Engineering (CBSE), UCSC held its own DNA Day with interactive and informational activities.
“DNA Day is about commemorating all these milestones in genetic research,” said CBSE diversity programs associate director Zia Isola. “I thought it would be a good way to raise awareness on campus about all of the great research we have going on here, including the genome browser.”
What started two years ago with a small table of information and temporary tattoos has grown into something much bigger. This year was no exception, as many people were eager to participate.
Shirts were given to dancers to represent the four different nucleotide bases of DNA (ATCG). People paired up with their chemical combination, and the DNA conga line traversed the building. Sammy the Slug stood at the finish line, unzipping the DNA pairs.
An organism’s genome is its complete set of DNA, which contains the information of an organism’s design and how it functions. The UCSC Genome Bioinformatics Group completed the first working draft of the human genome sequence in 2000 and made it available on the Internet for public access.
Within the first 24 hours of the online publication of UCSC’s working draft of the human genome sequence, a half trillion bytes of information was downloaded. UCSC researchers also helped with the completion of the sequence in 2003. The sequence is 99.99 percent accurate, according to CBSE.
“The genome is the blueprint of what makes humans human,” Isola said. “Once you understand how something is made you can understand how to anticipate weaknesses. You can have a better understanding of aging and propensity toward certain types of diseases and address those diseases on a personal level.”
The finished sequence is accessible to anyone and can be reached through the UCSC Genome Browser, an online database contaning UCSC’s genomic data. However, if a private institution had been first to sequence the genome, the information could have been privatized.
“International researchers can use the information just by visiting the website. They can submit their own research to it as well,” said CBSE administrative assistant Jordan Trepte. “If it had been patented, it wouldn’t be so accessible and people wouldn’t have the opportunity to use it themselves.”
UCSC’s DNA Day was not only informative, but interactive too. One station allowed people to extract DNA from strawberries and bananas through a process used by scientists. This process involved physically breaking down the cell wall by crushing the fruit and preserving it in a bag. Salt, soap, water and rubbing alcohol were then added to the crushed fruit to isolate the DNA and allow it to be seen by the naked eye.
“Even though we have a lot of fun stuff that is sort of fluffy, what we really hope people will get out of it are the deeper possibilities of genomic science and that they will be drawn to that as a possible career field,” Isola said. “There are so many areas that this subject can be applied to, from biomedical to agriculture. It’s a really exciting field.”