RNA (Molecule of the Month for December 2019)
Ribonucleic acid (RNA) is a polymeric molecule essential in various biological roles in coding, decoding, regulation and expression of genes. RNA and DNA are nucleic acids. Along with lipids, proteins, and carbohydrates, nucleic acids constitute one of the four major macromolecules essential for all known forms of life. Like DNA, RNA is assembled as a chain of nucleotides, but unlike DNA, RNA is found in nature as a single strand folded onto itself, rather than a paired double strand. Cellular organisms use messenger RNA (mRNA) to convey genetic information (using the nitrogenous bases of guanine, uracil, adenine, and cytosine, denoted by the letters G, U, A, and C) that directs synthesis of specific proteins. Many viruses encode their genetic information using an RNA genome.
Some RNA molecules play an active role within cells by catalyzing biological reactions, controlling gene expression, or sensing and communicating responses to cellular signals. One of these active processes is protein synthesis, a universal function in which RNA molecules direct the synthesis of proteins on ribosomes. This process uses transfer RNA (tRNA) molecules to deliver amino acids to the ribosome, where ribosomal RNA (rRNA) then links amino acids together to form coded proteins.
The chemical structure of RNA is very similar to that of DNA, but differs in three primary ways:
Unlike double-stranded DNA, RNA is a single-stranded molecule in many of its biological roles and consists of much shorter chains of nucleotides. However, a single RNA molecule can, by complementary base pairing, form intrastrand double helixes, as in tRNA.
While the sugar-phosphate "backbone" of DNA contains deoxyribose, RNA contains ribose instead. Ribose has a hydroxyl group attached to the pentose ring in the 2' position, whereas deoxyribose does not. The hydroxyl groups in the ribose backbone make RNA more chemically labile than DNA by lowering the activation energy of hydrolysis.
The complementary base to adenine in DNA is thymine, whereas in RNA, it is uracil, which is an unmethylated form of thymine.
Like DNA, most biologically active RNAs, including mRNA, tRNA, rRNA, snRNAs, and other non-coding RNAs, contain self-complementary sequences that allow parts of the RNA to fold and pair with itself to form double helices. Analysis of these RNAs has revealed that they are highly structured. Unlike DNA, their structures do not consist of long double helices, but rather collections of short helices packed together into structures akin to proteins.
In this fashion, RNAs can achieve chemical catalysis (like enzymes). For instance, determination of the structure of the ribosome—an RNA-protein complex that catalyzes peptide bond formation—revealed that its active site is composed entirely of RNA.
Formal Chemical Name (IUPAC)
Update by Karl Harrison
(Molecule of the Month for December 2019 )
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