Thursday, November 3, 2011


DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) is a nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms (with the exception of RNA viruses). The DNA segments that carry this genetic information are called genes, but other DNA sequences have structural purposes, or are involved in regulating the use of this genetic information. Along with RNA and proteins, DNA is one of the three major macromolecules that are essential for all known forms of life.DNA consists of two long polymers of simple units called nucleotides, with backbones made of sugars and phosphate groups joined by ester bonds. These two strands run in opposite directions to each other and are therefore anti-parallel. Attached to each sugar is one of four types of molecules called nucleobases (informally, bases). It is the sequence of these four nucleobases along the backbone that encodes information. This information is read using the genetic code, which specifies the sequence of the amino acids within proteins. The code is read by copying stretches of DNA into the related nucleic acid RNA in a process called transcription.
Within cells DNA is organized into long structures called chromosomes. During cell division these chromosomes are duplicated in the process of DNA replication, providing each cell its own complete set of chromosomes. Eukaryotic organisms (animals, plants, fungi, and protists) store most of their DNA inside the cell nucleus and some of their DNA in organelles, such as mitochondria or chloroplasts. In contrast, prokaryotes (bacteria and archaea) store their DNA only in the cytoplasm. Within the chromosomes, chromatin proteins such as histones compact and organize DNA. These compact structures guide the interactions between DNA and other proteins, helping control which parts of the DNA are transcribed.


DNA is a long polymer made from repeating units called nucleotides. As first discovered by James D. Watson and Francis Crick, the structure of DNA of all species comprises two helical chains each coiled round the same axis, and each with a pitch of 34 Ångströms (3.4 nanometres) and a radius of 10 Ångströms (1.0 nanometres). According to another study, when measured in a particular solution, the DNA chain measured 22 to 26 Ångströms wide (2.2 to 2.6 nanometres), and one nucleotide unit measured 3.3 Å (0.33 nm) long. Although each individual repeating unit is very small, DNA polymers can be very large molecules containing millions of nucleotides. For instance, the largest human chromosome, chromosome number 1, is approximately 220 million base pairs long.
In living organisms DNA does not usually exist as a single molecule, but instead as a pair of molecules that are held tightly together. These two long strands entwine like vines, in the shape of a double helix. The nucleotide repeats contain both the segment of the backbone of the molecule, which holds the chain together, and a nucleobase, which interacts with the other DNA strand in the helix. A nucleobase linked to a sugar is called a nucleoside and a base linked to a sugar and one or more phosphate groups is called a nucleotide. Polymers comprising multiple linked nucleotides (as in DNA) are called a polynucleotide.The backbone of the DNA strand is made from alternating phosphate and sugar residues.[10] The sugar in DNA is 2-deoxyribose, which is a pentose (five-carbon) sugar. The sugars are joined together by phosphate groups that form phosphodiester bonds between the third and fifth carbon atoms of adjacent sugar rings. These asymmetric bonds mean a strand of DNA has a direction. In a double helix the direction of the nucleotides in one strand is opposite to their direction in the other strand: the strands are antiparallel. The asymmetric ends of DNA strands are called the 5′ (five prime) and 3′ (three prime) ends, with the 5' end having a terminal phosphate group and the 3' end a terminal hydroxyl group. One major difference between DNA and RNA is the sugar, with the 2-deoxyribose in DNA being replaced by the alternative pentose sugar ribose in RNA.
The DNA double helix is stabilized primarily by two forces: hydrogen bonds between nucleotides and base-stacking interactions among the aromatic nucleobases. In the aqueous environment of the cell, the conjugated π bonds of nucleotide bases align perpendicular to the axis of the DNA molecule, minimizing their interaction with the solvation shell and therefore, the Gibbs free energy. The four bases found in DNA are adenine (abbreviated A), cytosine (C), guanine (G) and thymine (T). These four bases are attached to the sugar/phosphate to form the complete nucleotide, as shown for adenosine monophosphate.The nucleobases are classified into two types: the purines, A and G, being fused five- and six-membered heterocyclic compounds, and the pyrimidines, the six-membered rings C and T. A fifth pyrimidine nucleobase, uracil (U), usually takes the place of thymine in RNA and differs from thymine by lacking a methyl group on its ring. Uracil is not usually found in DNA, occurring only as a breakdown product of cytosine. In addition to RNA and DNA a large number of artificial nucleic acid analogues have also been created to study the proprieties of nucleic acids, or for use in biotechnology.

Base pairing
In a DNA double helix, each type of nucleobase on one strand normally interacts with just one type of nucleobase on the other strand. This is called complementary base pairing. Here, purines form hydrogen bonds to pyrimidines, with a bonding only to T, and C bonding only to G. This arrangement of two nucleotides binding together across the double helix is called a base pair. As hydrogen bonds are not covalent, they can be broken and rejoined relatively easily. The two strands of DNA in a double helix can therefore be pulled apart like a zipper, either by a mechanical force or high temperature. As a result of this complementarity, all the information in the double-stranded sequence of a DNA helix is duplicated on each strand, which is vital in DNA replication. Indeed, this reversible and specific interaction between complementary base pairs is critical for all the functions of DNA in living organisms.
The two types of base pairs form different numbers of hydrogen bonds, AT forming two hydrogen bonds, and GC forming three hydrogen bonds (see figures, left). DNA with high GC-content is more stable than DNA with low GC-content. Although it is often stated that this is due to the added stability of an additional hydrogen bond, this is incorrect. [Citation needed] DNA with high GC-content is more stable due to intra-strand base stacking interactions.As noted above, most DNA molecules are actually two polymer strands, bound together in a helical fashion by noncovalent bonds; this double stranded structure (dsDNA) is maintained largely by the intrastrand base stacking interactions, which are strongest for G,C stacks. The two strands can come apart – a process known as melting – to form two ss DNA molecules. Melting occurs when conditions favor ssDNA; such conditions are high temperature, low salt and high pH (low pH also melts DNA, but since DNA is unstable due to acid depurination, low pH is rarely used). The stability of the dsDNA form depends not only on the GC-content (% G,C basepairs) but also on sequence (since stacking is sequence specific) and also length (longer molecules are more stable). The stability can be measured in various ways; a common way is the "melting temperature", which is the temperature at which 50% of the ds molecules are converted to ss molecules; melting temperature is dependent on ionic strength and the concentration of DNA. As a result, it is both the percentage of GC base pairs and the overall length of a DNA double helix that determine the strength of the association between the two strands of DNA. Long DNA helices with a high GC-content have stronger-interacting strands, while short helices with high AT content have weaker-interacting strands. In biology, parts of the DNA double helix that need to separate easily, such as the TATAAT Pribnow box in some promoters, tend to have a high AT content, making the strands easier to pull apart.
In the laboratory, the strength of this interaction can be measured by finding the temperature required to break the hydrogen bonds, their melting temperature (also called Tm value). When all the base pairs in a DNA double helix melt, the strands separate and exist in solution as two entirely independent molecules. These single-stranded DNA molecules (ssDNA) have no single common shape, but some conformations are more stable than others.

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