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Explainer: The Basics of DNA and Genetic Systems

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Explainer of DNA and Genetic Systems

Explainer: The Basics of DNA and Genetic Systems

While there is great diversity among living things, we all have one thing in common—we all rely on a genetic system made up of DNA and/or RNA.

But how do genetic systems work, and to what extent do they vary across species?

This graphic by Anne-Lise Paris explores the basics of DNA and genetic systems, including how they’re structured, and how they differ across species.

Composition of Genetic Systems: DNA and RNA

A genetic system is essentially a set of instructions that dictate our genetic makeup—what we look like and how we interact with our environment.

This set of instructions is stored in nucleic acids, the two main types being deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA).

While most living things rely on a mix of DNA and RNA for cellular reproduction, some viruses just use RNA to store their genetic information and replicate faster.

DNA is made up of four molecules, known as nucleotides: Adenine (A), Thymine (T), Cytosine ( C), and Guanine (G). These nucleotides are grouped in sets of two, which are called base pairs.

Size of Genomes Across Different Organisms

Human DNA is made up of approximately 3.2 billion base pairs that are tightly wound up and stored in our cells. If you were to unwind and measure the DNA stored in a single human cell, it would be about 2 meters (6.5 feet) long!

This lengthy DNA is stored in pairs of chromosomes. A full collection of chromosomes, or an entire set of genetic information, is referred to as a genome.

Genomes vary in size, depending on the organism. Here is a look at 24 different species and the size of their genomes, from animals and plants to bacteria and viruses:

OrganismKingdomSize of genomes (number of base pairs)
Poplar treePlant500,000,000
HumanAnimal3,200,000,000
ChimpanzeeAnimal3,300,000,000
Marbled lungfishAnimal130,000,000,000
DogAnimal2,400,000,000
WheatPlant16,800,000,000
PufferfishAnimal400,000,000
Canopy plantPlant150,000,000,000
Mouse-ear cressPlant140,000,000
CornPlant2,300,000,000
MouseAnimal2,800,000,000
MossPlant510,000,000
Fruit FlyAnimal140,000,000
C. ruddiiBacteria160,000
S. pombeFungi13,000,000
S. cerevisiaeFungi12,000,000
S. cellulosumBacteria13,000,000
H. pyloriBacteria1,700,000
E. coliBacteria4,600,000
Panadoravirus s.Virus2,800,000
HIV-1Virus9,700
Influenza AVirus14,000
BacteriophageVirus49,000
Hepatitis D virusVirus1,700

The Marbled Lungfish has the largest known animal genome. Its genome is made up of 130 billion base pairs, which is about 126.8 billion more than the average human genome.

Comparatively, small viruses and bacteria have fewer base pairs. The Hepatitis D virus has only 1,700 base pairs, while E. coli bacteria has 4.6 million. Interestingly, research has not found a link between the size of a species’ genome and the organism’s size or complexity.

In fact, there are still a ton of unanswered questions in the field of genome research. Why do some species have small genomes? Why do some have a ton of redundant DNA? These are still questions being investigated by scientists today.

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This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.

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Ranked: Top 10 Deadliest Animals for Humans

Dogs may be our best friends, but as a carrier of the rabies virus, they end up fourth on the list of top 10 deadliest animals.

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A cropped chart ranking the top 10 deadliest animals by the number of people killed per year.

Ranked: Top 10 Deadliest Animals for Humans

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

While running into wild animals in a forest can seem like the worst situation for humans, there are plenty of other animals that are far deadlier than large predators.

We rank the top 10 deadliest animals by the number of people killed per year. Data for this visualization and article is sourced from BBC Science Focus.

Spreaders of Diseases are Deadliest for Humans

Mosquitoes, of course, are the reigning champions on the toll they take on humans. Every year they kill more than 700,000 people through a multitude of deadly diseases—dengue, yellow fever, and malaria.

By some estimates, mosquitoes are responsible for the deaths of half of all the humans that have ever lived.

RankAnimalHumans Killed Annually
1🦟 Mosquitoes*725,000
2👫 Humans**400,000
3🐍 Snakes138,000
4🐕 Dogs*59,000
5🐜 Assassin Bugs*10,000
6🦂 Scorpions3,300
7🐊 Crocodiles1,000
8🐘 Elephants600
9🦛 Hippos500
10🦁 Lions200

Note: *Spreads diseases. **Homicides only.

Meanwhile, humans are (almost) their own worst enemies. Every year, nearly 400,000 homicides take place, making humans the second-deadliest animal for other human beings. And this doesn’t account for all the human-caused accidents that result in fatalities.

At fourth place, dogs may be our best friends, but as a carrier of the deadly rabies virus, they end up fourth on the list of top 10 deadliest animals.

Rounding out the top five are assassin bugs, which spread the parasite that causes Chagas disease, a condition that can go untreated for years and can result in serious complications that make it life-threatening.

Large mammals, including lions, hippos, and elephants round out the top 10. Interestingly, bears kill around one person a year on average and wouldn’t be anywhere close to making this list of the deadliest animals.

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