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10.1 Using Microbiology to Discover the Secrets of Life

  • DNA was discovered and characterized long before its role in heredity was understood. Microbiologists played significant roles in demonstrating that DNA is the hereditary information found within cells.
  • In the 1850s and 1860s, Gregor Mendel experimented with true-breeding garden peas to demonstrate the heritability of specific observable traits.
  • In 1869, Friedrich Miescher isolated and purified a compound rich in phosphorus from the nuclei of white blood cells; he named the compound nuclein. Miescher’s student Richard Altmann discovered its acidic nature, renaming it nucleic acid. Albrecht Kossell characterized the nucleotide bases found within nucleic acids.
  • Although Walter Sutton and Theodor Boveri proposed the Chromosomal Theory of Inheritance in 1902, it was not scientifically demonstrated until the 1915 publication of the work of Thomas Hunt Morgan and his colleagues.
  • Using Acetabularia, a large algal cell, as his model system, Joachim Hämmerling demonstrated in the 1930s and 1940s that the nucleus was the location of hereditary information in these cells.
  • In the 1940s, George Beadle and Edward Tatum used the mold Neurospora crassa to show that each protein’s production was under the control of a single gene, demonstrating the “one gene–one enzyme” hypothesis.
  • In 1928, Frederick Griffith showed that dead encapsulated bacteria could pass genetic information to live nonencapsulated bacteria and transform them into harmful strains. In 1944, Oswald Avery, Colin McLeod, and Maclyn McCarty identified the compound as DNA.
  • The nature of DNA as the molecule that stores genetic information was unequivocally demonstrated in the experiment of Alfred Hershey and Martha Chase published in 1952. Labeled DNA from bacterial viruses entered and infected bacterial cells, giving rise to more viral particles. The labeled protein coats did not participate in the transmission of genetic information.

10.2 Structure and Function of DNA

  • Nucleic acids are composed of nucleotides, each of which contains a pentose sugar, a phosphate group, and a nitrogenous base. Deoxyribonucleotides within DNA contain deoxyribose as the pentose sugar.
  • DNA contains the pyrimidines cytosine and thymine, and the purines adenine and guanine.
  • Nucleotides are linked together by phosphodiester bonds between the 5ʹ phosphate group of one nucleotide and the 3ʹ hydroxyl group of another. A nucleic acid strand has a free phosphate group at the 5ʹ end and a free hydroxyl group at the 3ʹ end.
  • Chargaff discovered that the amount of adenine is approximately equal to the amount of thymine in DNA, and that the amount of the guanine is approximately equal to cytosine. These relationships were later determined to be due to complementary base pairing.
  • Watson and Crick, building on the work of Chargaff, Franklin and Gosling, and Wilkins, proposed the double helix model and base pairing for DNA structure.
  • DNA is composed of two complementary strands oriented antiparallel to each other with the phosphodiester backbones on the exterior of the molecule. The nitrogenous bases of each strand face each other and complementary bases hydrogen bond to each other, stabilizing the double helix.
  • Heat or chemicals can break the hydrogen bonds between complementary bases, denaturing DNA. Cooling or removing chemicals can lead to renaturation or reannealing of DNA by allowing hydrogen bonds to reform between complementary bases.
  • DNA stores the instructions needed to build and control the cell. This information is transmitted from parent to offspring through vertical gene transfer.

10.3 Structure and Function of RNA

  • Ribonucleic acid (RNA) is typically single stranded and contains ribose as its pentose sugar and the pyrimidine uracil instead of thymine. An RNA strand can undergo significant intramolecular base pairing to take on a three-dimensional structure.
  • There are three main types of RNA, all involved in protein synthesis.
  • Messenger RNA (mRNA) serves as the intermediary between DNA and the synthesis of protein products during translation.
  • Ribosomal RNA (rRNA) is a type of stable RNA that is a major constituent of ribosomes. It ensures the proper alignment of the mRNA and the ribosomes during protein synthesis and catalyzes the formation of the peptide bonds between two aligned amino acids during protein synthesis.
  • Transfer RNA (tRNA) is a small type of stable RNA that carries an amino acid to the corresponding site of protein synthesis in the ribosome. It is the base pairing between the tRNA and mRNA that allows for the correct amino acid to be inserted in the polypeptide chain being synthesized.
  • Although RNA is not used for long-term genetic information in cells, many viruses do use RNA as their genetic material.

10.4 Structure and Function of Cellular Genomes

  • The entire genetic content of a cell is its genome.
  • Genes code for proteins, or stable RNA molecules, each of which carries out a specific function in the cell.
  • Although the genotype that a cell possesses remains constant, expression of genes is dependent on environmental conditions.
  • A phenotype is the observable characteristics of a cell (or organism) at a given point in time and results from the complement of genes currently being used.
  • The majority of genetic material is organized into chromosomes that contain the DNA that controls cellular activities.
  • Prokaryotes are typically haploid, usually having a single circular chromosome found in the nucleoid. Eukaryotes are diploid; DNA is organized into multiple linear chromosomes found in the nucleus.
  • Supercoiling and DNA packaging using DNA binding proteins allows lengthy molecules to fit inside a cell. Eukaryotes and archaea use histone proteins, and bacteria use different proteins with similar function.
  • Prokaryotic and eukaryotic genomes both contain noncoding DNA, the function of which is not well understood. Some noncoding DNA appears to participate in the formation of small noncoding RNA molecules that influence gene expression; some appears to play a role in maintaining chromosomal structure and in DNA packaging.
  • Extrachromosomal DNA in eukaryotes includes the chromosomes found within organelles of prokaryotic origin (mitochondria and chloroplasts) that evolved by endosymbiosis. Some viruses may also maintain themselves extrachromosomally.
  • Extrachromosomal DNA in prokaryotes is commonly maintained as plasmids that encode a few nonessential genes that may be helpful under specific conditions. Plasmids can be spread through a bacterial community by horizontal gene transfer.
  • Viral genomes show extensive variation and may be composed of either RNA or DNA, and may be either double or single stranded.
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