What Exactly Is DNA?

Wednesday, March 7, 2018. Author Alex Auld

DNA double helix

To understand the importance of knowing your unique genetic code it’s useful to first understand what exactly DNA is. What information is tied up in that famous double helix shape, and how does it influence our response to exercise and nutrition?

The subject of genetics can seem complex and overwhelming, but when we break it down it becomes much easier to follow.


Your DNA is like a cookbook...

At FitnessGenes we like to think of your DNA as a cookbook. It holds the instructions for making the proteins your body needs for growth, development, and everyday function.

If DNA is the cookbook, your genes are the recipes. They are specific regions of the DNA that create specific proteins.

We all have roughly 21,000 genes, approximately in the same order. However, there are multiple versions of these genes, and these different versions behave in different ways regarding protein production.

The gene instructions may tell your body to make different types or amounts of a protein.

It's ultimately the structure, activity and quantity of proteins that determines our body's response to different exercise, nutrition and physiological strategies.


Building proteins

Gene is the broad term that we use, but our test more precisely analyzes specific parts of the gene, called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs: pronounced ‘snips’).

If you unwound the DNA double helix, it would look like a ladder with:

  • Two phosphate backbones
  • Nitrogen base pairs acting as the rungs


The combination of the sugar-phosphate with a nitrogen base constitutes a nucleotide. Our DNA analysis identifies the rungs you have.

This is because within a gene, three of these nitrogen bases (or rungs) form a codon, and each codon has an associated amino acid. The order of codons determines the amino acid sequence. As amino acids are the ‘building blocks’ of proteins, this sequence in turn determines the type of protein which is produced.

Therefore a single base change results in a different codon order, altering the amino acid sequence and ultimately the protein produced.


Genes and proteins in action

To show how this works, we’ll look at one of the genes we analyse: CYP1A2.

Like all genes, there are three possible variations of CYP1A2 as you inherit one allele (or gene variant) from your mother and one from your father. The three CYP1A2 variations are AA, AC and CC.

The CYP1A2 gene codes for the production of the protein that metabolises caffeine. Carriers of the AA version have been shown to produce the highest levels of the CYP1A2 protein and are categorised as fast metabolisers, as they break down caffeine at a faster rate.

On the other hand, the CC variation produces the lowest levels of the protein, meanings it takes them longer to metabolize caffeine. Consequently, they’re classified as ‘slow metabolisers’.

With this insight, we can make recommendations on when it is genetically-optimal for a client to consume caffeine for both performance benefit and to avoid sleep disturbance.


Base > codon > amino acid > protein

I hope this has helped remove some of the complexity around genetics. It’s not as daunting a world once you understand the fundamentals. If there is anything to take away from this blog, remembering the ‘base > codon > amino acid > protein’ sequence will set you up well to understand your FitnessGenes results.

Learn more about the genes we analyze and the results you receive with our DNA analysis by clicking here.

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