What Is DNA?
Will Sopwith: So DNA has got these two strands in every cell. This is the alphabet that I was talking about. It corresponds, so A corresponds with T, G corresponds with C, and you've got these two strands. When a cell divides, those two strands separate, and the cell makes a new copy on both sides. So basically, you've got two identical copies of what you had before. That then separates into a new cell, two new cells. If you think about a baby developing in the womb, that's what's going on, all the time. Over time those cells begin to diversify into brain, into foot, into heart into whatever. That is the mechanism of growth that underpins every single living thing. It's the same alphabet in those two strands from a bacterium to an elephant. It's exactly the same model.
Now, there's only a portion of those strands that actually mean anything. So you can actually translate it into a word, that's what genes are. You translate it into something that means something and makes something in a cell or in a body. There's a load of stuff between which was always thought of as junk. Part of the thinking around evolutionary development is we've got all this spare stuff. Evolution says it can call on some of this junk, and bring an infinite recombination. However, when those two things separate, if one of the copies is slightly different, it might form a slightly different thing from what it was supposed to. That's basically mutation. As we go on learning through the Human Genome Project and others, all that supposedly junk DNA is actually absolutely vital. It's about the way it's structured in the cell to make sure that genes are copied right and read right by a cell. It can begin to turn off and on genes. Although it doesn't really code anything, all that stuff between the genes is really, really important.
So you can see, if you start mutating, the likelihood of getting enough mutations to create a new viable living thing, rather than just destroy it, is very small. A lot of genetic diseases are very debilitating, they don't create a new super being. They create something that's, not able to function in quite the same way. But the whole theory of evolution, and DNA is based upon the fact these mutations are beneficial, and you that you can get enough of them at the same time to start creating completely new life forms over aeons and aeons of time.
Actually, as people are looking more and more into DNA, all this stuff is useful. It's not just the genes, it's all the other stuff as well. You begin to question that whole process of mutation.
For me, if you were gonna design a system that allowed the diversity of life and the movement of animals and living things into new environments and adaptation, well, DNA is just brilliant. It leads me to think, God, you're amazing.
When I was doing my degree, every lecture was just another wow. It really caused worship in me. That was my response going to university. And that was years ago. We knew a fraction of what we do now. The whole exploration of life is brilliant. It's incredibly rewarding.