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.
They 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.
Supported by a Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) Grant No. R25RR023288 from the National Center for Research
Resources, a component of the NIH. The contents provided here are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily
represent the official views of NIH.