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The Four Elements

For the Ancients, it was generally believed that all matter was composed of different combinations of four basic "elements": Earth, Air, Fire and Water.

With the rise of modern chemistry and atomic theory, we got away from this quaint notion.

By the time biochemistry began to develop in the later 1800's, most of the "true" elements had been discovered, and modern chemical theory had been well-defined and established. During this time, biochemists succeeded in isolating and identifying all kinds of biological compounds, including amino acids, proteins, purines and pyridimines. As early as the 1890's, it was known that the genetic material of all cells contained a particular chemical compound, Deoxyribonucleic Acid -- DNA for short. Much later, in the 1940's and early 50's, the exact composition of DNA was worked out. Specifically, DNA was found to be composed of four essential biochemical building blocks: 2 purines, adenine and guanine; and 2 pyridimines, cytosine and thymine.

We don't know what was in the minds of the early discoverers of these many biochemical compounds, when they named them in the late 1800's and early 1900's. There were lots and lots of compounds being isolated and discovered back then, and their association with DNA was not yet known. It is interesting to note that the precise four compounds that were later found to form the structure of DNA have the following derivations for their original scientific names:

Guanine, from Sp.< Queehuas huanu, meaning "dung" >>>> EARTH
Cytosine, from Gr. kytos, meaning "hollow vessel" >>>> AIR
Thymine, from Gr. thymon, meaning "burnt offering" >>>> FIRE
Adenine, from Gr. nephros, meaning "kidney" >>>> WATER

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