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I am currently writing a mathematical biology paper, however it is very hard for me to follow the existing literature due to specialized terms. I have tried googling but most explanations are very technical and filled with more biology jargon. I have absolutely zero biology experience, so if anyone could please give a very very basic, non technical/rigorous, and intuitive explanation of the following terms, that would be great.

  • Nucleotide
  • Protein
  • DNA
  • Adenine, Thyine, Cytosine, Guanine
  • RNA
  • Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNP)
  • Base: e.g. "1% of the human genome (about 30 million base pairs) will be treated."
  • Eukaryotic
  • Genome
  • Genome sequence
  • Whole-genome
  • Partial-genome
  • GC content
  • conservation: e.g. "degree of evolutionary conservation"
  • conserved region: e.g. "functional elements are more likely to be found in DNA regions that are the best conserved across species"
  • conserved sequence
  • chromosome
  • binary sequence
  • non-coding DNA/RNA
  • non-protein-coding genes/sequence/portion/elements
  • protein-coding genes/sequence/portion/elements
  • gene sequencing
  • gene promoters
  • purifying selection
  • positive selection
  • functional element: e.g. “…classes of functional non-coding elements remain to be discovered”
  • non-functional element: e.g. "identify all non-functional elements in the human genome."
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closed as too broad by Mad Scientist Dec 11 '13 at 8:02

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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Wow, these are quite a lot of questions. How do you want to write a paper on mathematical biology without at least a basic understanding of biology? My advice would be that you go into the stuff and then ask more specific questions. –  Chris Dec 11 '13 at 10:22

1 Answer 1

There are too many questions that ask for too many explanations, I don't think anybody wants to answer to all that. It is not really possible to give a "very basic without technical term" definitions to most of these words. If you want to write an article in mathematical biology, I am afraid you will have to take some time to learn a bit about biology. Go through some books that will guide in the basic understanding of biology. I know we all would like things to be easy when starting a new field but unfortunately there is no easy answer to your questions. This book for example might help you. It is a classic in first year Bachelor in biology.

If you have some specific questions, you are very welcome to ask them. But this post asks for a whole book!

Here is a small quickly written text that will maybe help you a bit. Note: it might be oversimplified sometimes!

DNA is a big molecule made of (among other things) nucleotides. There are 4 nucleotides (adénine, cytosine, tyrosine (or Uracile on RNA) and guanine often just called ACTG and they can be categorized in two types of molecule depending on their number of cycles) which sequence form the genetic information. DNA, in eukaryotes (which are cells that contains DNA in a nucleus (which is the case of all non-virus, non-bacteria and non-archaebacteria)) is grouped into chromosomes (which are usually represented by a "X" as they more or less appears at the metaphase (a phase during the life cycle of a cell)).

DNA is transcribed into mRNA (a kind of RNA) which is then translated into protein (by rRNA and tRNA). While RNA and DNA are made of nucleotides, the protein is made of amino acids. Three nucleotides (one codon) codes for 1 amino acid.

In the genome there are sequences that code for proteins, sequences that code for RNA, sequences that allows other proteins to bind into in order to influence gene expression, promotors, enhancers… You will have to accept taking some time learning a bit about that stuff I guess.

Sequencing is the (artificial) process of reading a DNA sequence. This can be achieved on a whole genome or on small chosen sequences.

As the nucleotides G binds only with C and A binds only with T (two nucleotides together form a base pair)(there are two strands of DNA linked by the nucelotides), the amount of G equals the amount of C and same for A and T. The GC content gives the proportion of G and C of the total number of nucleotides of a sequence (or a whole genome). Oh by the way, a genome is the totality of the DNA of a given individual.

Positive/purifying selection are cases of natural selection. Natural selection is a process by which the frequencies of alleles (variant of a gene) does not vary randomly. They vary according to the reproductive success (= fitness) they confer to the individuals that bear the allele. Positive selection on an allele means that this allele is selected for. Purifying selection refers to the wildtype allele (most frequent allele) is selected for and all mutations (DNA modifications) that appear are deleterious and therefore counterselected,

A SNP is a genetic variation between individuals in a population (or along populations or species) that involves only one nucleotide.

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