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6: Nucleic Acids

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  • The blueprint for the reproduction and the maintenance of each organism is found in the nuclei of its cells, concentrated in elongated, threadlike structures called chromosomes. These complex structures, consisting of DNA and proteins, contain the basic units of heredity, called genes. The number of chromosomes (and genes) varies with each species. Human body cells have 23 pairs of chromosomes having 20,000–40,000 different genes.


    • 6.1: Prelude to Nucleic Acids
      In the 1970s, an intense research effort began that eventually led to the production of genetically engineered human insulin—the first genetically engineered product to be approved for medical use. To accomplish this feat, researchers first had to determine how insulin is made in the body and then find a way of causing the same process to occur in nonhuman organisms, such as bacteria or yeast cells. Many aspects of these discoveries are presented in this chapter on nucleic acids.
    • 6.2: Nucleotides
      Nucleotides are composed of phosphoric acid, a pentose sugar (ribose or deoxyribose), and a nitrogen-containing base (adenine, cytosine, guanine, thymine, or uracil).​​​​​​​ Ribonucleotides contain ribose, while deoxyribonucleotides contain deoxyribose.
    • 6.3: Nucleic Acid Structure
      DNA is the nucleic acid that stores genetic information. RNA is the nucleic acid responsible for using the genetic information in DNA to produce proteins. Nucleotides are joined together to form nucleic acids through the phosphate group of one nucleotide connecting in an ester linkage to the OH group on the third carbon atom of the sugar unit of a second nucleotide. Nucleic acid sequences are written starting with the nucleotide having a free phosphate group (the 5′ end).
    • 6.4: Genomic DNA in Prokaryotes and Eukaryotes
    • 6.5: Eukaryotic Chromosomal Structure and Compaction
    • 6.6: DNA Replication in Prokaryotes
      DNA replication has been extremely well studied in prokaryotes primarily because of the small size of the genome and the mutants that are available. E. coli has 4.6 million base pairs in a single circular chromosome and all of it gets replicated in approximately 42 minutes, starting from a single origin of replication and proceeding around the circle in both directions. This means that approximately 1000 nucleotides are added per second. The process is quite rapid and occurs without many mistake
    • 6.7: DNA Replication in Eukaryotes
      Eukaryotic genomes are much more complex and larger in size than prokaryotic genomes. The human genome has three billion base pairs per haploid set of chromosomes, and 6 billion base pairs are replicated during the S phase of the cell cycle. There are multiple origins of replication on the eukaryotic chromosome; humans can have up to 100,000 origins of replication
    • 6.8: DNA Repair
      DNA replication is a highly accurate process, but mistakes can occasionally occur, such as a DNA polymerase inserting a wrong base. Uncorrected mistakes may sometimes lead to serious consequences, such as cancer. Repair mechanisms correct the mistakes. In rare cases, mistakes are not corrected, leading to mutations; in other cases, repair enzymes are themselves mutated or defective.
    • 6.9: The Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR)
      The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) can amplify a region of DNA from any source, even from a single cell’s worth of DNA or from fragments of DNA obtained from a fossil. This amplification usually takes just a few hours, generating millions of copies of the desired target DNA sequence. The effect is to purify the DNA from surrounding sequences in a single reaction!
    • 6.10: 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.
    • 6.11: Transcription
      In both prokaryotes and eukaryotes, the second function of DNA (the first was replication) is to provide the information needed to construct the proteins necessary so that the cell can perform all of its functions. To do this, the DNA is “read” or transcribed into an mRNA molecule. The mRNA then provides the code to form a protein by a process called translation. Through the processes of transcription and translation, a protein is built with a specific sequence of amino acids that was originally
    • 6.12: Translation
      The synthesis of proteins is one of a cell’s most energy-consuming metabolic processes. In turn, proteins account for more mass than any other component of living organisms (with the exception of water), and proteins perform a wide variety of the functions of a cell. The process of translation, or protein synthesis, involves decoding an mRNA message into a polypeptide product. Amino acids are covalently strung together in lengths ranging from approximately 50 amino acids to more than 1,000.
    • 6.13: Mutations and Genetic Diseases
      The nucleotide sequence in DNA may be modified either spontaneously or from exposure to heat, radiation, or certain chemicals and can lead to mutations. Mutagens are the chemical or physical agents that cause mutations. Genetic diseases are hereditary diseases that occur because of a mutation in a critical gene.
    • 6.14: Viruses
      Viruses are very small infectious agents that contain either DNA or RNA as their genetic material. The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).
    • 6.15: DNA Sequencing

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