Frankenstein! How Your DNA is Being Changed Inside Your Immune System
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Frankenstein! How Your DNA is Being Changed Inside Your Immune System

The properties of the immune system to rearrange themselves is very incredible. With only a limited number of genes, the Immune system has developed a way to make millions of different arrangements of genes to create a vast repertoire of antibodies. This allows for people to respond to a vast majority of possible infections. Somatic Recombination allows for this distinct advantage that vertebrates have over other organisms.

Did you know that there are cells in your body right now that are chopping apart your DNA like a mad scientist in order to keep you alive? Although it sounds like something from a Tabloid magazine it is actually true. But what can possibly be the reason for the mixing and matching of DNA? The answer is very simple; to protect you. And you keep you safe from millions of invading bacteria!

The process I am referring to is called ‘Somatic Recombination’. It can be a very complicated and beautiful process likened to choosing an outfit from a closet full of clothing combinations. What it is on a fundamental level is, the recombining very specific sections of DNA that are called genes.

An easy way to think of this is like looking in your closet. All of the shirts next to one another make little bands of color that are all mixed together in a line. Now imagine that every band of color from a shirt is actually a gene in your DNA that makes a shirt. If you were to walk up to a specific shirt in your closet and pull it out and put it on, you would be wearing the shirt of that exact color. That’s how genes work! You find what specific ‘type’ or color that you want, then pull it out and make it.

Somatic recombination works in very much the same way as organizing an outfit for the day. There are multiple parts of the Human Antibody, the blood protein responsible for death of invading bacteria and virus pathogens, that are responsible for them sticking to different invaders in the body. The specific sections or domains have many different isotypes that they can be. This means that for the option of a shirt (or specific domain), there can be many options to choose from. In the same way as with a shirt, you can also only have one shirt on at a time. The sticky part is actually very specific to what it can stick to, so it is necessary for your body to make a lot of different kinds of antibodies. The only way to do this is to chop up the different sections or domains of the antibody, and put them back together differently or with different genes. This will ensure that there is enough variation to protect from many different invading pathogens. In the same way that it is possible to wear a combination of different clothes and accessories to make an outfit to match another person, there are many different combinations of genes that can be arranged to match an invading pathogen inside your body!

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