One of the very first things that you learn in biology class is the structure of DNA. This very important macromolecule contains all the instructions to make the proteins that then make you. And the language of these instructions is simple, just four letters: A, T, C, and G. But did you know that each nucleobase has its own special story?
Scientists in the past classified adenine as a vitamin, but because your body makes its own supply, it got downgraded to a regular, old nucleobase. But that doesn’t mean adenine doesn’t do important things outside of the nucleus. When combined with riboflavin and niacin, adenine forms FAD and NAD… you know those electron transporters in cellular respiration.
When scientists at NASA beamed some space ice with high energy rays, they found that uracil formed quite easily but thymine did not. Now, nothing is definitive, but this does give that whole “RNA world” theory a bit more weight. In fact, could it be possible that the building blocks of life formed inside an asteroid that somehow found its way to the primordial soup of Earth? Hmmm…
Humans are so similar. In fact, our DNA is 99.9% the same. Molecules are sort of like that too. Cytosine is cytosine, until you remove an amine group (that’s -NH3 for those who are wondering). Suddenly, cytosine is no more and you’re left holding uracil. Scientists think that this easy reaction is the reason why they’ve never found any trace of cytosine in meteorites. It’s not that it never formed, cytosine just turned to uracil on the way down from space.
Do you love shimmering eye shadow? Iridescent nail polish? Or perhaps you wish you could capture the rainbow glow of fish scales or pearls? You’re in luck. Simply take some bird poop, separate the white stuff out, dry it out, and ta-da, crystalline guanine! Don’t be so surprised, the word “guanine” comes from the Spanish word guano, meaning bird or bat poop. This story certainly took an unexpected turn.
A, T, C, or G?
Now that you’ve heard each of these nucleobases’ special stories, we’re sure you’ve got one that you love more than the others. Will it be demoted-adenine? Late-comer thymine? Versatile cytosine? Or guano-y guanine? Head over to our atelier to check out each of these nucleobases as a necklace or mix-n-match earrings. Appreciate them as individuals or as a team of four, and remember, they also make great gifts for the geneticist, NASA chemist, biochemist, and a starry-eyed pre-med student in your life.
written by Science with Evie