DNA Is Even More Complex Than We Thought!

Illustration of the i-motif structure of DNA formed from the standard double-helix structure.
(This figure is from the scientific article being discussed.)

DNA is a wonderfully complex chemical that we are still a long way from fully understanding. Its ability to store information is amazing. Experiments indicate that a single gram of DNA (a gram is approximately the mass of a U.S. dollar bill) can store 500,000 CDs worth of information! It uses a complicated system of alternative splicing so that a single region of the molecule can store the information needed to produce many different chemicals (see here and here, for example). It is so complex that even the best chemistry lab in the world cannot produce a useful version of it. In the end, the best human science can do is make tiny sections of DNA and then employ yeast cells to stitch those segments together so that they become something useful.

In 1953, American biologist James Watson and English physicist Francis Crick published a landmark paper describing the structure of DNA that we have all come to know: the double-helix. Since then, however, scientists have discovered at least 10 other structures that DNA can take on. One of the more interesting ones is called the i-motif structure, which is illustrated above. Rather than the well-known double-helix, it is a four-stranded, interlocking ladder.

This rather bizarre form of DNA was first discovered as a structure produced in the lab, and many biochemists thought that it couldn’t exist in most living organisms (especially humans), because it tends to form in acidic conditions. Human blood is just slightly basic (pH between 7.35 and 7.45), so it was thought that i-motif DNA wouldn’t be found in human cells. However, a new paper provides very strong evidence that i-motif DNA not only exists in human cells, but that it is constantly forming and unforming based on what is going on in the cell!

The researchers decided to look for this form of DNA in human cells by making an antibody that would bind only to the i-motif form of DNA. They tagged the antibody with a fluorescent dye that would glow green when the antibody attached. They demonstrated that the antibody was faithful to bind only to that form of DNA, and they put the antibody in the nucleus of a human cell. Using a microscope, they were able to see antibodies glow in several different places, indicating that i-motif DNA was, indeed, present in the nucleus.

What’s even more remarkable, however, is that the glowing regions turned on and off. This indicates that the i-motif structure was being made from the double-helix form and then transformed back into the double helix form. Why? There’s no solid answer to this question, but the researchers noticed that i-motif DNA tended to form a lot during transcription. If you don’t recognize that term, in order to make a protein, the cell must read the “recipe” for that protein from the DNA and then send that recipe to another place in the cell to make the protein. The first part of that process (reading the DNA) is called transcription, and the second part (turning it into a protein) is called translation. That means i-motif DNA is formed more frequently when the cell is starting the process of making a protein.

Because of this, the researchers suggest that the i-motif form of DNA provides some sort of regulation in the production of proteins. After all, the cell not only needs to know how to make proteins, but it also needs to know when to make them and how much to make. The “how” part is something we know pretty well. The “when” and “how much” parts are still quite mysterious to modern science. We have uncovered (and partially understood) some of DNA’s regulatory mechanisms, but as this new discovery of i-motif DNA in human cells indicates, we still have a long way to go.

DNA is just one of the many marvels in Creation that testify to the design ingenuity of the Creator, and the more we learn about it, the more I stand in awe!


  1. John D. says:

    Pretty cool. I wonder if structures that DNA “can take on” almost always translates to “will take on”. ie. if you can model it then you can bet you’ll find it or make it. Kinda like the hunt for periodic elements.

  2. Fred says:

    That is very interesting – as you say, we have a long way to go to really understand basic things.
    To ask the dumb question – why is it called the i-motif?

    1. Jay Wile says:

      That’s definitely not a dumb question! The “i” stands for “intercalated,” which is a chemical term that means “to insert between layers.”

  3. Lawrence Dol says:

    “They tagged the antibody with a fluorescent dye that would glow green when the antibody attached.”

    That this is is possible and works is remarkable just by itself. Biological systems are upon layer of remarkable.

  4. Victor Ferreira Da Silva says:

    Good article, Dr. Jay! That study, somehow, has a connection with another. Which says the DNA has a second layer of information.

    God Enlighten you all!

  5. William says:

    Wow, this is fascinating stuff and I think your clincher was dead on, there has to be a creator.

  6. cjl says:

    I must agree. Stand in awe.

  7. Aaron D Field says:

    Richard Dawkins said that our DNA is only 3% different from chimpanzees.

    Is that true?

    1. Jay Wile says:

      Like much of what Dawkins says, that’s definitely not true, Aaron. Indeed, the chimpanzee genome is estimated to be 3.385 billion base pairs long. Comparatively, the human genome is estimated to be 3.609 billion base pairs long. By length alone, then, they are 6% different. Interestingly enough, we still don’t know the exact structure of either, since DNA is very hard to analyze. As a result, there is another way to measure length, called the “golden path length.” Comparing those leads to a difference of 4%. Either way, 3% is wrong.

      Comparing DNA is difficult, as I discuss here. Nevertheless, we can definitely say that human and chimp DNA aren’t nearly as similar as evolutionists would want you to believe.

      1. Aaron D Field says:

        Thank you so much for the reply.
        I was homeschooled learning general science from your textbook and it made me certain of creation.

        There is this rediculous theory Berkeley University is teaching called endosymbiosis, in which it “explains” how a prokaryotic cell might evolve into a eukaryotic cell.
        What mortifies me is the fact that this isn’t even a tested theory.

        Let me repeat myself, THEY’RE TEACHING AN UNTESTED THEORY!

        Can you please write an article about this nonsense please?


        1. Jay Wile says:

          Actually, the theory has been tested, and it has come up lacking. Endosymbiosis says that mitochondria were originally bacteria that got engulfed by another, larger bacteria. Recently, scientists tried to find out which living bacteria mitochondria are most similar to, in order to pinpoint the origin of that organelle. They found that there is no currently-living bacteria that could have become the mitochondria we see today. Of course, that didn’t even challenge their fervent faith. They just concluded that there must have been a bacterium from the past that has no currently-living close relative, and that mysterious bacteria is the one that mitochondria must have come from.

  8. William says:

    That is insane, how many times did they test the theory? And is it even a theory?

  9. Tim Constant says:

    Dr Wile,
    I recently read an article about mitochondria that seemed to have “scientists baffled”. I appears as though the “DNA barcode” they have looked at for animals shows that 90% of current species are the same age as humans. here is the link https://phys.org/news/2018-05-gene-survey-reveals-facets-evolution.html Thought you might find it interesting.

    But I have another genetic question.

    I recently read about syncitin, which I’m sure you have heard of, the protein that essentially allows for the fetus to develop in the womb without maternal antibodies attacking it. From the article I read they suppose the protein is viral in nature. Does syncitin truly have viral DNA? and if so, how could this square with a YE viewpoint since it would have to be present in Eve at the point of creation?

    1. Jay Wile says:

      Thanks for your comment Tim. I had not seen the article you link, but I have to admit that I am skeptical that mitchondrial DNA (mtDNA) can tell us when species emerged. Essentially, the study is using sections of the mtDNA that many think can mutate with little effect on the organism. They assume that these sections accumulate mutations steadily, since the organism’s fitness is not affected by those mutations. Thus, if there is little diversity among those sections, there is little difference in the time over which the organisms have lived. Most likely, these sections of mtDNA are doing something we don’t understand and are therefore not free to mutate like studies such as this one assume. Of course, I would love for the results to be true, but I am very skeptical.

      In answer to your question, I think you are referring to syncytin-1, which is necessary for placental development. It mediates the fusion between two layers of the placenta, one of which is involved in blocking maternal antibodies, along with a host of other jobs. This protein is encoded by the gene known fondly as ERVW-1. The “ERV” part stands for “endogenous retroviral,” since it is thought that the gene was left in an ancestor’s genome after a retrovirus infection. However, this leads to a paradox, as I explain here. As I link in the article, Dr. Borger has a better explanation of ERVs. They are variation-inducing genetic elements that the Creator has designed into the genome to aid in adaptation. RNA viruses were formed when those elements were able to escape the genome. Thus, the genes are not the remains of retroviral infections. The genes produced RNA viruses, including retroviruses.

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