RNA: The Versatile Molecule

Structure Leads To Function

RNA molecule

Even though RNA molecules are made from just 4 simple building blocks, RNA can take on a variety of shapes and carry out many different functions.

The key to RNA's versatility is its chemical structure. It's made from just 4 simple building blocks, yet RNA can take on a nearly infinite variety of shapes. And its three-dimensional shape in part determines what an RNA molecule can do.

Even though RNA is single-stranded (unlike DNA, which is made up of two strands), it can still form complementary base pairs. Complementary sections within a single strand of RNA can base-pair with each other, causing the molecule to fold in on itself and form a complex, three-dimensional shape.

The sequence of bases along the RNA strand determines how it will fold. In this way, the sequence of bases determines the strand's three-dimensional shape. Changing the bases will change both the molecule's shape and its function. It is this flexibility that makes RNA such a versatile molecule.

  • Funding

    Supported by a Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) Grant No. R25RR023288.

    The contents provided here are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of NIH.

APA format:

Genetic Science Learning Center. (2016, March 1) RNA: The Versatile Molecule. Retrieved June 22, 2017, from http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/basics/rna/

CSE format:

RNA: The Versatile Molecule [Internet]. Salt Lake City (UT): Genetic Science Learning Center; 2016 [cited 2017 Jun 22] Available from http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/basics/rna/

Chicago format:

Genetic Science Learning Center. "RNA: The Versatile Molecule." Learn.Genetics.March 1, 2016. Accessed June 22, 2017. http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/basics/rna/.