Are DNA and Genes the Same Thing?

Genes, DNA, genome, chromosomes—is your head spinning yet? DNA and genetics are hot topics these days, but we receive a lot of questions asking us to go back to the basics, such as: what exactly is the difference between genes and DNA, anyway?

  • DNA is your body’s internal, hard-coded instruction guide for making you, you.
  • DNA is found in your cell’s nucleus, and you get half from each parent.
  • Genes are DNA sequences that contain complex instructions.
  • Just 1 percent of your DNA sequence is genes.
 Let’s start with DNA, or a molecule known as deoxyribonucleic acid. DNA is everything that makes you what you are today. It’s your body’s internal, hard coded instruction guide for all the little nuances that make you, you. And, unless you have an identical twin, you’re the only person—on this planet of 7.5 billion people—that has your exact DNA.

Let’s take things one step further. DNA hangs out in the nucleus area of your cells, where it’s jampacked with around 3 billion individual DNA molecules. Together, this creates what you know as a chromosome. This specific DNA, found in that teeny tiny area of your cell’s nucleus, is also known as nuclear DNA, or your genome, and you get half of it from each parent. To give you an idea of the size of DNA, envision six feet. Six feet is the length of one of your cell’s DNA, if you were to unravel each individual strand and string them together, end to end.

And, here’s where the instruction manual part comes into play. Imagine DNA as though it’s a strand of one building block after another. These strands are your chemical building blocks and it’s these strands that program you to be you. The secret to your blue eyes and blonde hair? Look no further than your DNA sequence for the answer.

To tell your body what to do (how to look, how to live, how to develop, you name it), DNA codes for proteins. These proteins are the fibers that  compose your body and tell it exactly what to do. Chunks of DNA sequences that contain these complex instructions are genes.

Believe it or not, genes comprise only roughly 1% of your entire DNA sequence! You have two of every gene, one from each parent. And everything else is laser focused on the protein creation itself—when to create protein, how much, and so forth.

While most DNA is the same across all humans—there’s a razor-thin slice (less than 1%) that is different. A gene’s form is referred to as its allele. You may have heard of dominant or recessive traits. This is the power of alleles in action; the alleles a child receives from parents may be identical (homozygous) or different (heterozygous). One allele may dominate the other, by “winning” and expressing itself, such as how brown eye genes dominate over blue eye genes..

DNA and genes are tightly intertwined, but they aren’t completely synonymous. But they both provide fascinating insights into who you are, from your traits and appearance to your sleep patterns and lifestyle.