Diabetes & DNA

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DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid and describes the molecule that contains all the instructions for the development and function of every cell in your body. Every person has their own individual DNA molecule that describes all your individual features (such as eye colour). The DNA molecule takes the shape of a double helix that is made up of a four base units with a backbone of sugars and phosphates. The four base units are; adenine, thymine, cytosine and guanine and they bind in specific pairs of adenine with thymine and cytosine with guanine. This pairing is really important as it allows DNA replication to occur in dividing cells. The order of these bases act as a blue print for the cell to make different proteins (and each different protein carries out a different job) and areas of DNA that are read in order to form a protein are known as genes. This means that if different parts of the DNA molecule (different genes) are read, different proteins will be made which carry out specific functions. This is the way in which different cells, with different functions within the body are created. For example, whilst a muscle cell and a pancreatic β cell contain the same DNA (your personal DNA), different genes are read in each cell so that the proteins made by the muscle cell allow it to stretch and contract whilst the proteins made by the pancreatic β cell allows it to produce insulin. If you are a type I diabetic then there is probably an error in your DNA that either means that the “insulin gene” is faulty or (more often) that the gene encoding a molecule that acts as a safety net to stop your immune system attacking the pancreatic β cells is faulty. This leads to your immune system destroying your pancreatic β cells so that they can’t produce insulin and explains why an environmental trigger is usually required to induce diabetes even in people who carry faulty genes.

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