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In classical biology, genetics is the study of inheritance in living organisms. Here, we attempt to describe many of the most important constant terms that you will encounter in the synthetic biology field using analogies that you may be more familiar with. Genetics is an enormous field formed of many specialities, and can be confusing to the newcomer, but it is perhaps best to think of it as a descriptive engineering discipline concerned with how organisms create the information systems that define how they execute the process of life itself.

To appreciate the importance of genetics, you will first need to know about the central dogma of biology: DNA codes for RNA which is translated into proteins, which are the biological 'machines' at work in cells.

What are Genomes?

 
The human genome consists of 46 chromosomes © 2015 Wikipedia

The genome represents the entire genetic material of an organism. It refers to the total DNA present within a single cell of an organism and has all the information required to produce a complete organism. The genome includes both genes (coding regions) and non-coding sequences of DNA. 

What are Genes?

 
Chromosome containing genes, that consist of Exons and Introns © 2010 Wikipedia
Genes carry the information required to build, maintain and replicate an organism's cells. All organisms have genes involved in various biological traits, some of which are instantly visible, such as eye color or number of limbs, and some of which are not, such as blood type, increased risk for specific diseases, or the thousands of basic biochemical processes that comprise life.

 

What is DNA?

Chemical structure of the DNA Molecule © 2013 Wikipedia
Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is a polymeric molecule (one composed of a chain of individual units) that encodes the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms and many viruses.

What are Amino Acids?

3 base pairs of DNA are translated into 1 amino acid © 2013 Wikipedia
In much the same way that nucleotides are the 'building blocks' of DNA, amino acids are the monomers that make up proteins. As mRNA is read, amino acids are chemically linked together to form polypeptides through a process called translation.

What are Proteins?

A protein in 3D © 2015 Wikipedia
Proteins are large biological molecules consisting of one or more long chains of amino acids. Proteins perform a vast array of functions within living organisms, including catalyzing metabolic reactionsreplicating DNAresponding to stimuli, and transporting molecules from one location to another.

What are Enzymes?

An enzyme is a protein that does something © 2014 Wikipedia
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What are Cells?

Many onion cells © 2007 Wikipedia
Cells are the basic functioning units of an organism. Unicellular organisms exist as only one cell while multicellular organisms contain multiple cells, sometimes even trillions. Cells have two main characteristics. They exchange energy with their environment to survive, and they contain genetic instructions in the form of DNA for how to function. This allows each cell to produce and replace its own components, as well as to replicate itself entirely.

What do you think?

3 Comments

  1. It would be nice to simplify the wording for some of the articles so that synbio beginners can understand the explanations. Especially for the "what are genomes?" one. Good start!

    1. Lena, you are a visionary! You posted this in August, in November I had the idea to build our Interprtr - the browser extension that highlights and describes all those funky words in biology. Probably this comment got stuck in my brain back then (smile)

  2. Always 😉 Keep up the amazing work. Now we need to come up with more ideas for synbio art!

About the authors

View full profile Jérôme Lutz from Berlin & Munich, Germany

I like to share the great things I discover daily while researching and working in the field of Synthetic Biology.

When I talk to people about it, they often refer to Science Fiction. However, when I send them links to this wiki and they read through those pages, they start understanding that this is real and it's happening right now.

View full profile Jake Curtis from London

I am a student at Cambridge University who has just finished a BA in Natural Sciences, focusing on Genetics in my third year. I am now studying for an MSc in Systems Biology.

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