DNA - three letters that represent the building blocks upon which the entire human body is constructed. If our DNA vanished, what happens to us?

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Every day you move…breathe…eat…

Nucleosome. Image Source: Thomas Splettstoesser on Wiki Commons

About 37 trillion cells are working hard inside your body to keep you going.

Image Source: DNA ji RNA ji ben shi yan ji shu on Flickr

These cells are contantly replicating, living and dying, as directed by your deoxyribonucleic acid – your DNA.

A DNA microarray. Image Source: Guillaume Paumier on Wiki Commons

What if one day you suddenly lost it?

A DNA sequence at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, Miraikan. Image Source: MIKI Yoshihito on Flickr

When would you notice?
Would you feel anything at all?
How long could you stay alive?

Image Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Consider this: our bodies have 37 trillion cells that are constantly working overtime to keep our flesh and bone machine running smoothly. Let’s say in an effort to make their job a little easier we did some major housecleaning and eliminated all the DNA from our bodies entirely. What would happen to us?

Image Source: David Goodsell on Wiki Commons

Would there even be an ‘us’ after that, or would we just be a puddle of genetic material on the floor wishing we had more faith in our cells’ abilities to reproduce?

Image Source: The Biological Bulletin on Flickr

Deoxyribonucleic acid is a molecule composed of four chemical bases: adenine,  guanine, cytosine and thymine. It is the foundation upon which our bodies are built, acting like a genetic development road map. Taking DNA out of the human body is the equivalent of taking a sledgehammer to the foundation of a very, very nice house. You don’t always appreciate the brick and mortar that holds the place up, but you sure would notice quickly when it’s gone and the chimney comes through the wall and the staircases start collapsing.

So getting rid of our DNA would not be the brightest of ideas any member of the human race has had. The nucleotides that make up our DNA act like glue – albeit a very complex glue constructed of phosphate and sugar groups. Those 37 trillion cells we mentioned earlier rely on our DNA for direction as well, since without DNA around to tell everyone what to do our bodies would fall apart-fast.

If we ever did get so far as to be able to extract all of our DNA, the unlucky individuals that found themselves in the position of having three of the most important letters the human body knows removed would come to a very painful demise. Picture skin falling off the bones while digestive acid burned a hole through the stomach and into the abdomen. It sounds bad on paper, and chances are excellent it would be even worse in real-world situation.

Image Source: http://www.cgpgrey.com

For a start, you’d lose weight!
Just a third of a pound, or about 150 grams.
Not the best weight-loss strategy, given all the consequences.
DNA isn’t just a series of perfectly structured molecules.

Ms. Edna Ardales, a researcher from IRRI, reviewing DNA profiles using UV light. Image Source: Rice in the Lab on Flickr

It’s your body’s library. It stores your genetic information, and tells your cells how to grow and function.
The moment your DNA vanished from your body, you likely wouldn’t notice a thing.

Not until your body started dying cell by cell, and you became a “walking ghost”.
How long do you think you’d last for?

Agarose gel with UV illumination – Ethidium bromide stained DNA glows orange. Image Source: DNA Lab on Flickr

Think of radiation poisoning. Gamma radiation destroys your DNA, but you don’t die from it immediately.
Your body still works but your immune system slowly collapses.
You don’t notice anything until the next day.
The same thing would happen to you if all of your DNA disappeared.
To keep you alive, your body’s cells constantly replicate themselves by dividing.
Nearly two trillion cells divide every day. Some of them, like your bone marrow cells which are responsible for producing blood, divide more often than others.
They all need instructions from your DNA to function properly. Without those instructions, they’d just stop working.
On the bright side, no one would be able steal your genetic information to violate your privacy.
But after 24 hours, without a hundred billion new cells producing blood, your immune system would collapse.
At this point, even an ordinary infection could kill you.
After five days, all of the cells lining your stomach would die out, too. Your body would be unable to digest food.
You’d suffer from gastrointestinal disease resulting in nausea, heartburn, bloating and constipation.
And say goodbye to your hair, since your hair follicle cells would stop reproducing.
In a normal state, you lose about 40,000 dead skin cells per hour. Without being able to generate new cells, you could scratch your skin right off within a week.
Luckily for you, you wouldn’t last long enough to experience those horrors.
Rapid infection or systemwide organ failure would kill you within days, possibly even hours.
You’d die writhing in abdominal pain, dizziness and nausea.
A good thing is, nobody has ever lost all of their DNA… yet.

Image Source: Henk Caspers/Naturalis Biodiversity Center
Image Source: Henk Caspers/Naturalis Biodiversity Center
Image Source: Wiki Commons

Our DNA is our friend. Let’s not be giving it the boot anytime soon, okay?

Story by Jay Moon


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