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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Describe the structure of nucleic acids and define the two types of nucleic acids
  • Explain the structure and role of DNA
  • Explain the structure and roles of RNA

Nucleic acids are the most important macromolecules for the continuity of life. They carry the genetic blueprint of a cell and carry instructions for the functioning of the cell.

Dna and rna

The two main types of nucleic acids are deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA)    and ribonucleic acid (RNA)    . DNA is the genetic material found in all living organisms, ranging from single-celled bacteria to multicellular mammals. It is found in the nucleus of eukaryotes and in the organelles, chloroplasts, and mitochondria. In prokaryotes, the DNA is not enclosed in a membranous envelope.

The entire genetic content of a cell is known as its genome, and the study of genomes is genomics. In eukaryotic cells but not in prokaryotes, DNA forms a complex with histone proteins to form chromatin, the substance of eukaryotic chromosomes. A chromosome may contain tens of thousands of genes. Many genes contain the information to make protein products; other genes code for RNA products. DNA controls all of the cellular activities by turning the genes “on” or “off.”

The other type of nucleic acid, RNA, is mostly involved in protein synthesis. The DNA molecules never leave the nucleus but instead use an intermediary to communicate with the rest of the cell. This intermediary is the messenger RNA (mRNA)    . Other types of RNA—like rRNA, tRNA, and microRNA—are involved in protein synthesis and its regulation.

DNA and RNA are made up of monomers known as nucleotides . The nucleotides combine with each other to form a polynucleotide    , DNA or RNA. Each nucleotide is made up of three components: a nitrogenous base, a pentose (five-carbon) sugar, and a phosphate group ( [link] ). Each nitrogenous base in a nucleotide is attached to a sugar molecule, which is attached to one or more phosphate groups.

The molecular structure of a nucleotide is shown. The core of the nucleotide is a pentose whose carbon residues are numbered one prime through five prime. The base is attached to the one prime carbon, and the phosphate is attached to the five prime carbon. Two kinds of pentose are found in nucleotides: ribose and deoxyribose. Deoxyribose has an H instead of OH at the two prime position. Five kinds of base are found in nucleotides. Two of these, adenine and guanine, are purine bases with two rings fused together. The other three, cytosine, thymine and uracil, have one six-membered ring.
A nucleotide is made up of three components: a nitrogenous base, a pentose sugar, and one or more phosphate groups. Carbon residues in the pentose are numbered 1′ through 5′ (the prime distinguishes these residues from those in the base, which are numbered without using a prime notation). The base is attached to the 1′ position of the ribose, and the phosphate is attached to the 5′ position. When a polynucleotide is formed, the 5′ phosphate of the incoming nucleotide attaches to the 3′ hydroxyl group at the end of the growing chain. Two types of pentose are found in nucleotides, deoxyribose (found in DNA) and ribose (found in RNA). Deoxyribose is similar in structure to ribose, but it has an H instead of an OH at the 2′ position. Bases can be divided into two categories: purines and pyrimidines. Purines have a double ring structure, and pyrimidines have a single ring.

The nitrogenous bases, important components of nucleotides, are organic molecules and are so named because they contain carbon and nitrogen. They are bases because they contain an amino group that has the potential of binding an extra hydrogen, and thus, decreases the hydrogen ion concentration in its environment, making it more basic. Each nucleotide in DNA contains one of four possible nitrogenous bases: adenine (A), guanine (G) cytosine (C), and thymine (T).

Questions & Answers

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INGIPHILE
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The study of all life or living matterThe living organisms of a particular region.
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in which of the following stages of the cell cycle are chromosomes pulled apart to opposite poles of the cell
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Anaphase
Jonah

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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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