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WHY DO DNA SAMPLES MATTER?
MARCH 05, 2016 AT 05:27AM EST BY OLIVIER NOEL

Every so often, I get asked by people in the community about the importance of DNA and DNA samples:

"Why do researchers always want samples? What can they do with my DNA? Better yet, with my spit? Isn't that just dirty stuff that the body cleared out that's in there? "

As a biochemist and geneticist, my first inclination is to start describing the structure of DNA and how it is the building block of life, but then I realize that -- depending on my audience -- this might not be the most effective way to explain what DNA is.

The point I would hope my audience takes home, though, is that DNA is an infinitely small thing that we cannot see with the naked eye that makes us who we are. It's like a code inside the cells in our body that programs us to look the way we look and behave the way we behave.

Sure, the environment we live in plays a significant role in molding us into the person we are, but that's the part that we can see and are conscious of. The DNA part is the part that we cannot see, and it is just as important -- and even more important than we can even realize in some cases in determining the way we are and the way we behave.

But what else can our DNA tell us?

Well, just like in any other codes, it can carry mistakes. So our DNA sometimes has a mistake in its code which cause us to have diseases. This is what researchers and doctors mean when they say that someone has a genetic disease.

Researchers are able to use technological and scientific techniques to look at our DNA and see where mistakes have occurred. They can do so by comparing the DNA of someone who doesn't have a disease to that of someone who has a disease, and the difference in their DNA can explain why the disease occurs. Research that scientists perform is often to look for ways to "correct" the mistake in the DNA with various methods and -- if and when they can do that -- that'll be the day that a cure is found for that particular disease.

We can have so many diseases, so one can imagine how difficult that work can be and how many scientists and research teams it'll take to study all of the diseases and come up with a cure for each. As I mentioned earlier, before you can find a cure to a genetic disease, you first need to understand what causes the disease in the first place.

Simply put, scientists first try to figure out where in the DNA the mistake happened. This is why DNA samples are so important to researchers: they need as many DNA samples as possible from different groups who have a particular disease to compare their DNA and see where there are differences among them and whether or not all the differences (or a specific difference alone) can account for why the disease occurred.

The more samples they have, the easier it is to figure out. And when you can understand why a disease occurs, you can then start developing a cure for it.

That's why we exist. We want to expedite these cures. We'll need your help to do that.

So really, it is in our very best interest to help researchers by providing our samples to them. Researchers do not need our names and personal information -- they just need the samples and to know what kind of disease or conditions you have now or have had in the past. In fact, they also need a lot of DNA samples from healthy people, too. Otherwise, what are they going to compare the DNA with different diseases to?

One easy way scientists can get our DNA is through our saliva. We have our DNA everywhere in our body -- including our spit! So providing saliva samples to researchers is just about equal to providing them with your DNA sample. And at DNAsimple, we'll do everything in our power to make sure that your contributions go as far as they possible can.

Want to help us make that happen? Sign up here if you haven't already!