Molecules of Inheritance
RNA: The Versatile Molecule

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.

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.


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Genetic Science Learning Center (2014, June 22) RNA: The Versatile Molecule. Learn.Genetics. Retrieved November 28, 2015, from http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/molecules/rnamolecule/
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