What is DNA?

Edited by: Chiara Bertipaglia, Science Editor, Postdoctoral Research Scientist at Columbia University & Kaitlyn Powers, Blog Editor, Marketing Student at Fordham University     The DNA is a molecule that encodes all the information needed to build and maintain living organisms. One could say the DNA is the blueprint of life. It is stored inside the nucleus of every cell, and is made up of two helices, intertwined to form a long thread. Each living being you can think of (bacteria, fungi, plants, animals, humans) has its own unique DNA that distinguishes it as an individual from the rest of the organisms on Earth. By translating its information into any characteristics of a living being, the DNA is responsible for encoding the instructions to build any part of our body i.e. a muscle, the eyes, the skin, the heart. How can this be achieved? Within every organism, every cell contains the exact same, identical copy of DNA (depicted as a red thread in every cell). If we think of a neuron and a skin cell, we quickly realize how different they are from one another. Neurons are responsible for our thoughts, memories and feelings, while skin cells form a barrier that offers mechanical protection from the environment. However, both these types of cells carry the same copy of DNA, and both use the same blueprint to define themselves and to perform their very distinct functions. What makes these cells diverse is that they use only some parts of the DNA and not others. In a way, a skin cell has all the information to be a neuron but “chooses” to...
What is a Synapse?

What is a Synapse?

  — By: Markel Olabarria, postdoc at Columbia University Synapse is where the conversation between two neurons takes place. One neuron talks while the other listens. The message is a chemical message, called neurotransmitter (yellow dots), and it is stored in a kind of balloon, called vesicles (in red). When the time comes, these balloons rush to the surface and release the neurotransmitter into the space between the two neurons. Once outside, the neurotransmitter reaches the receptors (yellow structures) of the next neuron and in this way the message is passed along. This process occurs very rapidly: it can happen as fast as in milliseconds (a thousandth of a second). If we consider all synapses in our brain, we can say it takes place continuously, with no rest, throughout our lives. Every activity we do, even the simplest one, requires the synapses in action. Whether we read a book, engage in a conversation, sleep, eat or practice our favorite sport, synapses are constantly passing the message to make all of this possible. Please follow and like...
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