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RNA (ribonucleic acid)


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A chain of nucleotides, which are composed of a nitrogen containing base, a 5-carbon sugar (ribose), and phosphate groups. RNA functions in the translation of the genetic information in DNA to protein synthesis.


Ribonucleic acid (RNA) is a nucleic acid polymer consisting of nucleotide monomers. RNA nucleotides contain ribose rings and uracil unlike deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA?), which contains deoxyribose and thymine. It is transcribed from DNA by enzymes called RNA polymerases and further processed by other enzymes. RNA serves as the template for translation of genes into proteins, transferring amino acids to the ribosome to form proteins, and also translating the transcript into proteins

Molecular structure

RNA is primarily made up of four different bases: adenine, guanine, cytosine, and uracil. The first three are the same as those found in DNA, but uracil replaces thymine as the base complementary to adenine. This base is also a pyrimidine and is very similar to thymine. Uracil is energetically less expensive to produce than thymine, which may account for its use in RNA. In DNA, however, uracil is readily produced by chemical degradation of cytosine, so having thymine as the normal base makes detection and repair of such incipient mutations more efficient. Thus, uracil is appropriate for RNA, where quantity is important but lifespan is not, whereas thymine is appropriate for DNA where maintaining sequence with high fidelity is more critical.

There are also numerous modified bases found in RNA that serve many different roles. Pseudouridine (Ψ) and the DNA base thymidine are found in various places (most notably in the TΨC loop of every tRNA). There are nearly 100 other naturally occurring modified bases, many of which are not fully understood.

Comparisons between DNA and single stranded RNA with the diagram of the bases showing.


Synthesis of RNA is usually catalyzed by an enzyme, RNA polymerase, using DNA as a template. Initiation of synthesis begins with the binding of the enzyme to a promoter sequence in the DNA (usually found "upstream" of a gene). The DNA double helix is unwound by the helicase activity of the enzyme. The enzyme then progresses along the template strand in the 3’ -> 5’ direction, synthesizing a complementary RNA molecule with elongation occurring in the 5’ -> 3’ direction. The DNA sequence also dictates where termination of RNA synthesis will occur.

Biological roles

Messenger RNA (mRNA)

Messenger RNA is RNA that carries information from DNA to the ribosome sites of protein synthesis in the cell. Once mRNA has been transcribed from DNA, it is exported from the nucleus into the cytoplasm (in [eukaryote? eukaryote]s mRNA is "processed" before being exported), where it is bound to ribosomes and translated into protein. After a certain amount of time the message degrades into its component nucleotides, usually with the assistance of RNases.

Transfer RNA (tRNA)

Transfer RNA is a small RNA chain of about 74-93 nucleotides that transfers a specific amino acid to a growing polypeptide chain at the ribosomal site of protein synthesis during translation. It has sites for amino-acid attachment and an anticodon region for codon recognition that binds to a specific sequence on the messenger RNA chain through hydrogen bonding. It is a type of non-coding RNA.

Ribosomal RNA (rRNA)

Ribosomal RNA (rRNA) is a component of the ribosomes, the protein synthetic factories in the cell. [Eukaryote? Eukaryotic] ribosomes contain four different rRNA molecules: 18S, 5.8S, 28S, and 5S rRNA. Three of the rRNA molecules are synthesized in the nucleolus, and one is synthesized elsewhere. rRNA molecules are extremely abundant. They make up at least 80% of the RNA molecules found in a typical [Eukaryote? Eukaryotic] cell.

Non-coding RNA or "RNA genes"

RNA genes (sometimes referred to as non-coding RNA or small RNA) are genes that encode RNA that is not translated into a protein. The most prominent examples of RNA genes are transfer RNA (tRNA) and ribosomal RNA (rRNA), both of which are involved in the process of translation. However, since the late 1990s, many new RNA genes have been found, and thus RNA genes may play a much more significant role than previously thought.

In the late 1990s and early 2000, there has been persistent evidence of more complex transcription occurring in mammalian cells (and possibly others). This could point towards a more widespread use of RNA in biology, particularly in gene regulation. A particular class of non-coding RNA, micro RNA, has been found in many metazoans (from Caenorhabditis elegans to Homo sapiens) and clearly plays an important role in regulating other genes.

Double-stranded RNA

Double-stranded RNA (or dsRNA) is RNA with two complementary strands, similar to the DNA found in all "higher" cells. dsRNA forms the genetic material of some viruses. In [eukaryote? eukaryote]s, it acts as a trigger to initiate the process of RNA interference and is present as an intermediate step in the formation of siRNAs (small interfering RNAs). siRNAs are often confused with miRNAs; siRNAs are double-stranded, whereas miRNAs are single-stranded.




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