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01 April 2004 1405 BST
Graphic: A-Z of Norfolk Science, D: DNA

DNA stands for Deoxyribonucleic acid

Scientists in Norfolk have made history by discovering the DNA of plant life through a weed called thale.

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John Innes Centre

BBC Science: Genes

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What is DNA?

Imagine your body is a computer. It needs lots of bits to make it work, but most importantly it needs a computer programme.

The computer programme can only work with code, which helps make the computer work.

DNA (which stands for Deoxyribonucleic acid) is like the computer programme, except it is found in all living things.

DNA contains the instructions for a living thing to grow and to work. These instructions are like the code in a computer programme, and in living things are called genes.

What did the Norfolk scientists discover?

Scientists at the John Innes Centre in Norwich were part of an international team that spent more than four years looking at the DNA of a weed called thale cress (or Arabidopsis thaliana).

Professor Mike Bevan talking about the research in December

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The John Innes Centre is a very important place for research and training in plant and microbial science.

They believe that understanding the DNA code of thale cress is important because it could help make many changes to farming.

They could use their research to help stop crops dying from disease and could even give help scientists learn more about human health.

Plant and animal biology are similar and this means that work on DNA could also help us understand the human body.

Understanding plants

Because the scientists at the John Innes Centre found the DNA to the weed, they are able to study all the genes in one plant at one time.

The plant's genes have already helped scientists to protect crops like wheat, from disease.

The research will also help scientists understand why some plants survive and others die.

For example, experts are working on a study that compares Genetically Modified (GM) and non GM crops under drought and non-drought conditions.

Recommended reading
By Sheila McKeown, a librarian at the Millennium Library in Norwich.

Genetics by Richard Beatty. Hodder Wayland 2001. ISBN 075023380x.

Genetics: Present Knowledge, Future Trends, by Moira Butterfield. Watts 2002, ISBN 0749645873.

You can get hold of these books through your local library.


Read more: CBBC Newsround: Children break DNA model record »

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