Welcome to Genes 101!
This will be the first in a series of lessons aimed to bring you up to speed on various topics in science. I hope this proves to be a useful tool for you to not only help you understand my posts, but to help you understand science news in general.
So let’s start with genes. What the hell is a gene anyway? Genes are sections of DNA that tell the cell how to build a particular protein. Different genes encode for different proteins. Genes are important because every cell in your body is made from unique proteins. Blood cells, liver cells, or the skin cells on your butt, they’re all composed of proteins.
However, not every protein is needed by the cell at any given moment. When production of a certain protein is not necessary, the cell down-regulates the gene, i.e., prevents that protein from being made. This is accomplished by tightly coiling the gene around circular proteins (chromatin), effectively preventing the cell from being able to read/access the gene.
When the cell does need that protein at a later time, the encoding gene then becomes up-regulated, through exposing that gene to the cellular machinery responsible for the translation of genes into proteins.
Finally, the human genome, which is the entirety of our unique individual DNA sequence, has a lot of junk DNA information in it. There are vast stretches of DNA that don’t actually tell the body anything useful. These stretches of DNA are called non-coding DNA, and are NOT considered genes, but still play an important role in gene regulation.