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How much information is encoded in our DNA and how detailed is it?

I've always heard DNA being refered to as the blueprint for building living organisms, but could it also be viewed as a detailed historical record? How much do the biochemical equivalents of our thoughts and feelings affect our DNA? Will it eventually be possible for us to search our DNA for contextual information about our ancestors? To know what they thought and felt?

  • Jan 14 2014: 1) DNA cannot be viewed as a detailed historical record. It just is. No events are actually recorded in it. There is no way to tell if a specific DNA sequence mutation is due to a chemical, radiation, mis-transcription, or recombination event, only that it exists. Thus, there is no historical record. Even then, there is absolutely no record of "events" as we generally think of events.
    2) Our thoughts and feelings are biochemical. Severe stress can lead to breakdowns in DNA repair, through inflammation. This can lead to somatic mutations and, very rarely, germline mutations. There is not connection between the details of these stressors and the details of the mutations, only that an increase in one is associated with an increase in the others. No mumbo-jumbo DVD recording of past lives in the DNA.
    3) No.
    4) No.
    • Jan 14 2014: Thank you for your infomative and civil response.
  • Jan 13 2014: In short, no.
    Oversimplifying things so we can more easily discuss them, DNA is mostly information about protein sequences, and instructions on when and where to make them.

    It doesn't store thoughts and feelings anymore then a blueprint of a house could tell you about the people living in it--perhaps you'd get a general idea about things like socio-economic class, but nothing specific, like say, a name.
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      Jan 13 2014: I beg to differ, there seems to be such a thing as "genetic memory", we don't understand at all how it works but we have observed it a lot. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_memory_(biology)

      But none of this has been done in humans so there's that. Still f some animals have it it would no be that far fetched to think that this animal (humans) also have it.
      • Jan 14 2014: Note that the "memory" involved isn't actually what you'd normally refer to as memory.

        Its not information of past events accessible to the mind, but rather inherited instincts, changes to simple biological processes, and behavior, all of which can be done by protein chains.
        • Jan 14 2014: The general public does not want to know reality. They want their little fairy tales wherein specific events are "recorded" in genomes and can be re-played like a movie on DVD.
    • Jan 14 2014: A non-dimwitted answer! Will miracles never cease?
  • Jan 13 2014: There is a lot of information encoded in there, but a good portion is intron or what is called junk DNA and doenst code for anything. It is theorized that those portions once coded for something in our past but that it was deactivated after we no longer needed that gene.
    • Jan 14 2014: Would there be any benefits to mapping the genome of several generations of a single family to look at the differences in the junk DNA?
    • Jan 14 2014: You are parroting 30-year-old stuff that is horribly outdated and obsolete. If you are going to "instruct" on something, please learn something about it, first. The majority of DNA in a eucaryotic organism does not code for protein primary sequences. That much is true. But it is NOT all "intron" DNA. likewise, this non-coding DNA, including introns IS NOT JUNK! IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!IT IS NOT JUNK!

      I HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE the alleged "teachers" who have taught this trash to people. This non-protein coding DNA is HIGHLY FUNCTIONAL! Some of it codes for miRNA. Some of it codes for tRNA. Some of it codes for rRNA. The majority of it is regulatory in nature, in that it doesn't "code for" anything but it determines whether a gene is "off", "on", how much it is "on", when it turns "on", what turns it "on" or "off", etc. Calling it junk is as silly as saying that the software on your computer is all junk because it merely is instructions of when things happen instead of actually producing a physical object.

      Non-coding DNA IS NOT JUNK!
      • Jan 14 2014: Ok my apology but that is the way I was taught to think about it. You know that most biology textbooks that I have seen don't really go into the idea of what those parts do. They say that the dns codes for specific traits when we are growing and they say that the introns which they litteraly classify as things that are largely useless to the production of proteins, just get cut out and go on to protein production. They might not say it, but we are still taught today that there are useless peices of dna. And I was in the ap course for biology.
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      Jan 14 2014: @ Justin : The junk DNA idea has largely been disproved.
  • Jan 13 2014: You guys will have to forgive my ignorance. I will just throw questions at you with the understanding that this is surely an extremely complicated field. Does our DNA change as we age or do the mutations that give rise to genetic variance occur in the womb?
    • Jan 14 2014: Both, though for a mutation to reach the next generation, it has to eventually reach the reproductive cells. That means that a mutation in an early enough stage in the womb would do, but it has to occur in the reproductive cells themselves if it happens later in life.

      You could keep volleying questions, though a quick google search and a few hours of reading will provide you with much better understanding then I could hope to pass on through this medium.
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      Jan 14 2014: Jacob,

      I agree with Navad on the Googling part. You can always ask here but you can't count on the answers to be accurate since you'll get all kinds of opinions here.

      However to answer your question, DNA changes a lot during our lifetime, genetic twins even end up with different genes turned on and off through the years. This process is called Epigenetics and it's the ongoing activation/deactivation of our genes. Even if you have a gene in your DNA that gene isn't necessarily turned on.

      Epigenetics: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epigenetics
      • Jan 14 2014: Epigenetics is NOT A CHANGE IN DNA!!!!!!

        If people are going to pontificate on biology, they need to LEARN a little biology!

        Epigenetic modifications are NOT changes in the primary DNA sequence. Likewise, activation/deactivation of genes is NOT a change in the primary DNA sequence!

        Epigenetics is addition or loss of small molecules (methyl or deoxymethyl) groups to specific DNA bases, or oxidation of specific DNA bases, but neither of these change the sequence of the gene. Gene regulation, while it can involve epigenetics, does not have to, and it is actually done mostly by proteins interacting with each other and with gene structures--again NOT modifying the sequence of a gene.

        I've been working in this field for more than 20 years.
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    Jan 13 2014: One way it can be viewed as a historical record is through Mitochondrial DNA. It's inherited from mother to daughter and can be traced through the generations with variations. This is in part used to build evolutionary trees.


    The question of "how much information" is a funny one when you try to convert it into data storage amounts. It seems like each and every one of our cells are capable of holding 1.5 gigabytes, combine that with perhaps (estimates are very uncertain) 100 trillion cells. The you end you with a human beings DNA being able to store around 150 Zetabyte...