We’ve started a new blog/newsletter called Every Day’s a Holiday on Substack, and we’ve had some fun with funky holidays, some of them quite whimsical, but who’s counting, right? We’ve celebrated Everything You Think is Wrong Day, and National Get Over It Day, among others. And later this week we’ll be celebrating National Tell a Story Day, of course!
But today is an actual National Holiday as declared by Congress, and it highlights one of my favorite facts of nature. Today is National DNA Day, celebrated on April 25 every year since 2003, to commemorate the day in 1953 when Nature magazine first published the findings of Francis Crick and James Watson describing the structure of DNA.
Mind you, there were numerous other scientists who contributed to the discovery, including Raymond Gosling and Rosalind Franklin, Linus Pauling and Robert Corey. But as with many scientific discoveries, popular history tends to boil down the process until we have a name or two associated with really big strides in our attempts to understand and describe the world around us.
But here’s the thing about DNA that I love: it is composed of the same four nucleobases—cytosines, guanine, adenine, and thymine—in every single living thing. Everything. Every organism, whether plant, microbe, or animal, has them, and every living thing uses those four nucleobases to replicate and eventually determine the structure and function of every part of the approximately 13 million species on our planet.
What an amazing and beautiful and efficient world we live in!
I spent most of my formal education in the humanities, learning about arts and letters, performing arts and media. Which is my excuse for why, when I finally got around to finishing a BA in my late twenties, I had to take some science classes, one of which was molecular biology, and I did not know this fact of nature. I’ll never forget how astounded I was the day our professor told us that DNA’s building blocks, its four nucleobases plus the sugar and phosphate molecules to which they are attached, were in every living thing.
I was gobsmacked.
You mean plants don’t have plant building blocks and fish don’t have fish building blocks?
Nope. All the same stuff.
It gets better. Not only are all living things constructed using the same nucleobases, even the famous double helixes those bases form (as described by Crick and Watson) are remarkably similar from one organism to the next.
In 2003, after the Human Genome Project had finished mapping the miles of human genes, which contain the DNA and RNA genetic material, they announced that all human beings share 99.9% of their genetic material, only a tiny proportion is different from one person to the next; and humans and chimpanzees share 96% of their genetic material, humans and bananas have 60% similarity in genetic material, and even 60% of the genetic material of fruit flies is the same as humans.
Which explains The Fly, among other things.
But I digress.
DNA belongs to all of us, or we belong to it, from the soaring eagle to the slug, and everything in between. We are the same.
When you get down to basics, we are vastly more similar than we are different, and here’s the best part: it seems to me that treating the small differences from one person to another as welcome variety, as nature’s way to entertain us, keep us on our toes, rather than as something to fear or deplore is unquestionably the way to go.
That meager .1 percent variation can account for some very entertaining novelties; I mean from Picasso to Banksy, from Shakespeare to Chinua Achebe to Ursula Le Guin, from Louis Armstrong to Hildegard of Bingen to Sting—there’s an awful lot to enjoy.
So, Happy DNA Day everyone! And don’t forget to check out our weekly Every Day’s a Holiday at WMG newsletter!
Gwyneth Gibby is associate publisher of WMG Publishing. She is an award-winning writer, former Hollywood director, and an expert in narrative storytelling.