125 – An Alphabet

Click the video above for 2 minutes of background waves while reading.

I like walking on the beach. It is good for the mind, body, and soul – and refreshing on my feet.

With a topic in mind, I need to set the stage – so I researched.

The 26 letters in our alphabet offer 456,976 possible combinations of three-letter words- but most are not words. English also has about 16,000 three-letter words. Sources state the English language has about 172,000 words – but I only wondered about those with four letters.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Instead of 26 letters, what if our alphabet only had four letters? There would only be 64 three-letter possible words. And what if the letters were three consonants and a vowel – let’s say A G C T. What good would that language be?

What if the language only speaks in a string of sentences? That is, no other punctuation but a sentence with a capital letter and ending with a period. There are no question marks, exclamation points, or punctuation within the sentence. A language delivering a message as a mere string of letters?

Today’s humanity can identify the three-letter words in a four-letter alphabet – plus the start and ending points of the sentence. We can even clip and replace an entire section of letters. Thinking about this language is amazing – a language that has been around for millions of years, yet researchers identified its structure only a relatively short time ago. What if those four letters were the language for all living things?

I think about how today we use this language to identify and then cure diseases and illnesses – even create vaccines and foods. Yes, my thoughts today are about the language of life with a four-letter alphabet of A G C T. Yes – these are the structural letters of deoxyribonucleic acid – DNA

Image from Wikipedia

DNA – those 64 combinations of three letters dictate the entire living world as we know it. The three-letter words are for one of 20 amino acids – only one starts the sentence as the capital letter – but three combinations can act as the period – the punctuation. Before the next sentence begins, a string of nonfunctional letters may exist. I think of it as biological gobbledygook.

I think about how only 20 amino acids serve as the basis for all the structures and functions across the spectrum of life as we know it. Yes, not only my life – but also the life of all the fish of the sea, the animals, plants, and fungi on land, and even the bacteria and single-celled life. All living things may not have the same parts or do processes the same way; but in their way, they deal with nutrition, transportation, metabolism, waste removal, reproduction, and awareness.

I think about DNA being highly coiled and found in every living cell – yet as I look at all the shells that I see as I walk – and think – those were homes for life. How long would their DNA be if strung together? No doubt, longer than the miles that I walk each day.

Image from Wikipedia

Tightly packed into our 46 chromosomes, human DNA is a thin thread of six feet (two meters) in length. That’s for one cell – now imagine the human body having 30 trillion cells. And to think all my DNA is the same. All that DNA in each of us originates when the one sperm fertilizes one egg and became each of us. I find that fascinating.

I find it interesting that sentences of DNA are turned on or off at certain times – something that is also embedded in the code. Others may need an outside stimulus to cause activation. Just think, a liver cell and a brain cell contain identical DNA, yet the two cells look and function very differently. Yes, DNA contains the code for differentiating.

Some say passions such as a love for music, food, language, religion, and country is in their DNA. Although aspects of certain natural skills may be encoded in DNA, I have to respectfully disagree because many aspects of life and culture are learned behaviors – not ones passed from one generation to the next by DNA. However, I say it as a figure of speech, but I believe the human drive to explore is embedded in our DNA. Certain skills may be in our DNA, but using those skills is another story.

DNA is our personal history. Some people what to learn more about their past, so they submit their DNA for analysis. Our heritage is part of who we are – but our DNA is not our only identity.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Although DNA identifies our family, family is more than DNA. Family is love, respect, communication, nurturing, traditions, and more. DNA may not connect the adopted to their new parents and siblings, but they are very much part of a family. Other people have a strong connection with someone who is like a brother, sister, mother, or father, but they are not DNA related.

DNA is the personal history of all of humanity. DNA embeds answers about our ancient past, but other aspects of DNA seem like mysteries of the sea.

Mutations are changes in the DNA code that one generation passes to the next. While some mutations have a negative effect, some are positive or have no effect.

Today’s world involves genetic scissors that cut a DNA sequence at a specific location – cutting to edit for removing genetic code and even replacing it. The application in treating diseases and improving agriculture seems endless.

The amount of new knowledge about DNA during my lifetime is staggering. After all, scientists received a Nobel Prize for explaining DNA’s structure during the year of my birth. Since then, geneticists have successfully mapped the entire human sequence, and are now engaging with a new frontier. Perhaps each wave of the sea represents new information available in the field of genetics – and the waves keep coming.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

As I walk on the beach, I see living and once-living organisms. The sea to my side contains much more life than I see now. I see a jellyfish washed ashore, I now wonder: How much of my DNA is similar to theirs? I’m guessing probably more than I think.

DNA – that magical substance within life providing both answers and questions – and all embedded in a four-letter alphabet that is one of the languages of life. I am confident that most of the public has limited knowledge and understanding of this spectacular molecular structure – but it still has been worth pondering as I walk. After all, walking on the beach is good for the mind, body, and soul – and refreshing on my feet.

See what other bloggers have posted about DNA

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50 thoughts on “125 – An Alphabet”

  1. DNA is so fascinating, isn’t it!?
    We truly are fearfully and wonderfully knitted together…as are all other living things as well.

    Its so cool that there are gifted men and women who can use their gifts to make discoveries that we all can benefit from. Is their DNA different in some ways from us less ‘brainy? Not likely…LOL! But they sure were able to use their DNA ‘engineered’ intelligence to do amazing things!

    I sometimes wonder what Einstein might have thought about this DNA stuff? He obviously made his own brain work very hard!

    Thanks for the beautiful music!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I did a degree in Genetics and a PhD in Biochemistry and worked in a lab researching DNA damage and repair mechanisms, so for many years, DNA was my life 😀. Interesting fact, DNA was discoverd in 1869, but scientists originally thought that it was too simple to store our genetic information and assumed that proteins were the more likely candidate!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This and your post before this are busting at the seams with brain food to ponder! And even related! We contain DNA and experiences that emerge into who we are and what we are…
    Anyway, this one helps put in perspective the age-old question of “is it dna or the environment” that makes us who we are…
    As always, excellent walk-talk, Frank.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Laura,
      Thank you for the kind words … and I’m blushing. My teacher side came out in this one – yet the challenge was not getting deep into the subject while maintaining a broad, conceptual approach. I did think about the connection between this and the previous post – so much so that I considered separating them. Nonetheless, the fact that you enjoyed it and found something to ponder makes me proud. Thanks for sharing.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I started smiling as soon as you mentioned the 4 letter alphabet. Working in research, that limited alphabet is limitless. The mysteries continue to unfold – and the “more similarities than differences” continue to be revealed between species!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Resa,
      Thank you, thank you. Your kind words reminded me of a former student – Greg (a senior). After an activity connecting DNA, proteins, and abnormalities, after class he told me that this was the most significant learning day that he ever had. Interestingly, he was an average student – which to me, made his comment even more significant. Meanwhile, I tried to keep this in a broad view without getting deep into the topic, so your comment says I did it! Thanks again. Clink!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes this was definitely “heavy duty” but really interesting and while I read this post this morning, I have been thinking about it since then……and finally came back to comment! Lots to think about – and DNA is a HUGE subject. I enjoyed it – read it twice in fact. What I REALLY loved was the music video at the end. It was a nice reward for those of us who may have struggled just a tiny bit with the subject matter today. 🙂

    Hugs, Pam

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pam,
      Of all the comments, two types get to me – the ones from people in the field – and the ones who found it interesting and thought provoking. Yes, the topic is deep and huge – but I tried to focus on the concept, not the details. I wanted this walk to be understandable – so you (and others) verified that it was. … Thank you, thank you, thank you for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. How incredibly fortuitous that I chose that poem. The world moves in mysterious ways. Your musings on the topic of DNA are fascinating. There is much I did not know. And I agree with you, we are the product of nature as well as nurture and I do not believe one could work without the other. Letters notwithstanding.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. First, thanks for the link to my doggie DNA. When I was getting my environmental biology degree in 2007, Genetics was one of the more difficult classes. We’ve always been taught that our DNA doesn’t change based on what we do in life, but some research seems to show that isn’t strictly true. Sometimes we do cause changes in our genes and those get passed on.

    Considering how close our genome is to so many other creatures, you have to wonder why some people seem to think that other people (essentially the same genome) are inferior.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Eileen,
      Thanks for writing your post. When I was searching for links for this walk, I saw yours – and I typically favor those from visitors. Then I also knew I needed one about cats! Glad I was able to tap into your science degree. Your field loves to focus on the concepts that connect so many things. Thanks for walking along and sharing!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow Frank. All I can say is you blow me away with your amazing thought provoking post. I can think of a lot of 4 letter words to describe the world as it is now but I best keep them to myself.
    I will say though that it was a great post and I love the music that I LOVE…. Now that’s a 4 letter word I can get behind. Nice job! 👏👏👏

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Frank, your scientific background shines wonderfully in this post! Sure, it’s heavy reading for those of us not so scientifically inclined, but it’s a fascinating subject … and you explained things beautifully. You must have enjoyed teaching, and your students must have learned a lot from you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Debbie,
      Thanks for the kind words. Yes – I can see that this is a heavy topic – but a trip into the subject doesn’t require a deep dive into the details. This is a good example of my conceptual side that brings out the importance without the details. Then again, in the world of curriculum reform, we conceptualists are in the minority. Thanks for sharing and walking along.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. This is a fascinating topic, Frank. I enjoy reading, but I probably wouldn’t be able to pass a test on the subject. 🙂 It is true, as you stated, that in our lifetime we have learned so much about the secrets of DNA. Now with home genetic testing for genealogical purposes everyone, all of us with very little scientific knowledge, at least feels like we understand how DNA is tested and matched with other people. I’m glad you continue to teach, Frank, even through your blog. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Debra,
      Glad you enjoyed this, but you could pass the test as long as it focuses on the concept – not the details. To me, connections and concepts are important – but get lost in the midst of concentrating on the details. Don’t get me wrong – details are important – but for everyone? Thanks for the kind words and for walking along.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. So enjoyably well written! Thoughtful and also informative. There is just one bit that I don’t see your way. You talk of “biological gobbledygook”, some call it “junk DNA”. But is it not just undecoded information? A purpose we have not yet discovered? Is this were our talents reside? Yes, gobbledygook is a good word, it implies lack of understanding, but not lack of information. Nature still has some secrets for us to unravel.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ludwig,
      Thanks for the kind words and your interest in DNA. When I wrote this, I recall I didn’t want to use the term “junk DNA” – therefore my “biological gobbledygook” came to be. Knowledge about DNA has grown so much since my teaching days – but I found this bit of info from a reputable site: “Only about 1 percent of DNA is made up of protein-coding genes; the other 99 percent is noncoding. Noncoding DNA does not provide instructions for making proteins. Scientists once thought noncoding DNA was “junk,” with no known purpose. However, it is becoming clear that at least some of it is integral to the function of cells, particularly the control of gene activity.” …. but it seems secrets still exist. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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