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28 • Summary

28 • Summary

DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and RNA (ribonucleic acid) are biological polymers that act as chemical carriers of an organism’s genetic information. Enzyme-catalyzed hydrolysis of nucleic acids yields nucleotides, the monomer units from which RNA and DNA are constructed. Further enzyme-catalyzed hydrolysis of the nucleotides yields nucleosides plus phosphate. Nucleosides, in turn, consist of a purine or pyrimidine base linked to the C1 of an aldopentose sugar—ribose in RNA and 2-deoxyribose in DNA. The nucleotides are joined by phosphate links between the 5′ phosphate of one nucleotide and the 3′ hydroxyl on the sugar of another nucleotide.

Molecules of DNA consist of two complementary polynucleotide strands held together by hydrogen bonds between heterocyclic bases on the different strands and coiled into a double helix. Adenine and thymine form hydrogen bonds to each other, as do cytosine and guanine.

Three processes take place in deciphering the genetic information of DNA:

  • Replication of DNA is the process by which identical DNA copies are made. The DNA double helix unwinds, complementary deoxyribonucleotides line up in order, and two new DNA molecules are produced.
  • Transcription is the process by which RNA is produced to carry genetic information from the nucleus to the ribosomes. A short segment of the DNA double helix unwinds, and complementary ribonucleotides line up to produce messenger RNA (mRNA).
  • Translation is the process by which mRNA directs protein synthesis. Each mRNA is divided into codons, ribonucleotide triplets that are recognized by small amino acid–carrying molecules of transfer RNA (tRNA), which deliver the appropriate amino acids needed for protein synthesis.

Sequencing of DNA is carried out by the Sanger dideoxy method, and small DNA segments can be synthesized in the laboratory by automated instruments. Small amounts of DNA can be amplified by factors of 106 using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR).

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