Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is a nucleic acid
— usually in the form of a double helix — that contains the genetic instructions for monitoring
the biological development of all cellular forms of life,
and many viruses. DNA is a long polymer of nucleotides (a polynucleotide) and
encodes the sequence of the amino acid residues in proteins using the genetic code, a triplet code of nucleotides.
DNA is thought to date back to between approximately 3.5 to 4.6 billion years ago.
DNA is often referred to as the molecule of heredity as it is responsible for the genetic propagation of most inherited traits.
In humans, these traits can range from hair color to disease susceptibility. During cell division, DNA is replicated and can be transmitted to offspring during reproduction.
Lineage studies can be done based on the facts that the mitochondrial DNA only comes from the mother, and the male Y chromosome only comes from the father.
Every person's DNA, their genome, is inherited from both parents. The mother's mitochondrial DNA together with twenty-three chromosomes
from each parent combine to form the genome of a zygote, the fertilized egg. As a result, with certain exceptions such as red blood cells,
most human cells contain 23 pairs of chromosomes, together with mitochondrial DNA inherited from the mother.
In complex eukaryotic cells such as those from plants, animals, fungi and protists, most of the DNA is located in the cell nucleus.
By contrast, in simpler cells called prokaryotes, including the eubacteria and archaea, DNA is not separated from the cytoplasm by a nuclear envelope.
The cellular organelles known as chloroplasts and mitochondria also carry DNA.