The DNA molecule can make exact copies of itself by the process of replication, thereby passing on hereditary information - so determining all physical (and some would argue, personality) traits. This enables DNA to be used to identify gender, hair and eye colour, and other genetic markers.
To extract DNA at home you will need the following:
•saline solution (a glass of salty water)
•a clean glass
•1 tsp (5ml) washing-up liquid/detergent
•3 tsp (15ml) tap water
•a clean teaspoon
•a bottle of ice-cold alcohol (gin or vodka are excellent, as many people keep these in the freezer2. If you don't have strong booze available, any alcohol will do, such as rubbing alcohol.)
•a mouthful of spit
- Swill out your mouth with the saline solution for about 30 seconds. This is to collect the DNA contained in your saliva, and around the walls of your cheeks.
- Spit the contents of your mouth into a glass containing a mix of three teaspoons of water and one teaspoon of washing-up liquid/detergent. You are thus (hopefully) transferring the DNA from your cheek cells into the solution.
- Stir this mix slowly and gentlyfor a couple of minutes. During this process it is necessary to break up tissue (in this case, cheek cells) mechanically, and then to degrade both the cell membranes and those surrounding the nuclei - releasing the DNA contained within them
- Now pour (slowly!) some of the ice-cold alcohol carefully down the inside of the glass, allowing it to settle on top of the solution. DNA is insoluble in cold alcohol and while there will be a few bubbles, the other compounds in the mixture will dissolve, and the DNA will separate from the other ingredients. Leave it for about two to three minutes for this to happen
- If you are lucky you will see a spindly white substance, maybe clumps of it if you are really careful, forming on top of the salt/detergent mixture. Be patient - it will happen slowly. The resulting 'goo' is unique to you; it is your very own DNA!
Or watch Professor Brian Cox in action below.