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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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What Are the 10 Most Common Primates in the World?

This list excludes humans, who would otherwise lead the ranks of most common primates by a significant margin.

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A cropped chart ranking the 10 most common primates by population.

What Are the 10 Most Common Primates in the World?

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

The word ‘primate’ traces its roots back to the Latin word ‘primas,’ meaning ‘of first rank’ or the highest order in the animal kingdom. This classification intuitively reflects humans’ fascination with the many species who are our closest cousins.

In this graphic, we visualize the top 10 species of primates, ranked by their estimated global population. This data comes from WorldAtlas, and was last updated in 2017.

Given the difficult nature of tracking wild animals, these numbers should be treated as approximations rather than exact figures.

ℹ️ This list does not include Humans, who would be the most populous primate by far.

Ranked: Top 10 Primates, by Population

At the top of the list, there are more than 300,000 Müller’s Bornean Gibbons in the world, found on the island of Borneo in Indonesia and Malaysia.

The larger gibbon family consists of around 20 species of small apes found swinging through Southeast Asian rainforests. These acrobatic primates are known for their loud calls, impressive agility, and monogamous family structures.

Despite their ape status, they differ from great apes by being smaller and lacking nests.

RankMonkeyRegion of OriginEstimated Population
(as of 2017)
1Muller's Bornean
Gibbon
🇮🇩 Indonesia312,500
2Common
Chimpanzee
🌍 Sub-Saharan Africa236,200
3Gelada🇪🇹 Ethiopia200,000
4Western
Gorilla
🌍 Western Africa175,000
5Bornean
Orangutan
🇮🇩 Indonesia /
🇲🇾 Malaysia
57,000
6Mentawai
Langur
🇮🇩 Indonesia36,000
7Bonobo🇨🇩 DRC39,750
8Kloss's Gibbon🇮🇩 Indonesia35,000
9Red-eared
Guenon
🌍 West & Central
Africa
20,000
10Nilgiri Langur🇮🇳 India20,000

Ranked second, the Common Chimpanzee can be found in the savannas and forests of sub-Saharan Africa. A subspecies—the Eastern Chimpanzees in Tanzania’s Gombe National Park—were the primary focus of noted biologist Jane Goodall’s pioneering research in the 1960s.

Despite their apparent numbers, chimpanzees are now classified as an endangered species by the UN, their survival threatened by habitat loss, poaching, and disease.

All the way across, in Ethiopia, the Gelada species is the third most populous primate on the planet. Their short, stump fingers make them adept rock climbers—useful for navigating the Semien mountains they call home.

At fourth place, the Western Gorilla, also found in Africa, is the last primate species with a population above 100,000. The Western Gorillas are a little smaller than their Eastern counterparts, who are the largest living primates.

See More Animal Graphics From Visual Capitalist

If you’re curious to learn more about animals, check out this graphic that ranks the top speeds of the world’s fastest animals.

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