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Nucleic Acids

The Structure and Function of Nucleic Acids


Double stranded DNA

Double stranded DNA

DOE Human Genome Program
Nucleic acids allow organisms to transfer genetic information from one generation to the next. There are two types of nucleic acids: deoxyribonucleic acid, better known as DNA and ribonucleic acid, better known as RNA.

When a cell divides, its DNA is copied and passed from one cell generation to the next generation. DNA contains the "programmatic instructions" for cellular activities. When organisms produce offspring, these instructions, in the form of DNA, are passed down. RNA is involved in the synthesis of proteins. "Information" is typically passed from DNA to RNA to the resulting proteins.

Nucleic acids: Nucleotides

Nucleic acids are composed of nucleotide monomers. Nucleotides have three parts:
  • A Nitrogenous Base
  • A Five-Carbon Sugar
  • A Phosphate Group
Similar to what happens with protein monomers, nucleotides are linked to each other through dehydration synthesis. Interestingly, some nucleotides perform important cellular functions as "individual" molecules, the most common example being ATP.


In polynucleotides, nucleotides are joined to one another by covalent bonds between the phosphate of one and the sugar of another. These linkages are called phosphodiester linkages.

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