What is RNA?

Nucleic acids are the building blocks of life. You can think of DNA as the genetic blueprints for cell function and growth that stays in the cell, whereas RNA acts like the hardworking construction crew that carries out these instructions.

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How do RNA and DNA differ?
Sushi Science | Janelle Letzen | RNA

Cytosine, guanine, adenine, and uracil (replaced by thymine in DNA). C/G and A/U bond together as base pairs. The order of these repeating units acts as specific instructions.

Unlike DNA’s “double helix,” RNA has one strand of nucleotides, a type of organic molecule. Nucleobases pair up and stack on top of each other to form the helical structure.

Nucleobases in RNA
RNA Functions

RNA is essential for making proteins, which are present throughout our bodies. For example, proteins form hemoglobin in blood and collagen in skin. 

Types of RNA

There are 3 popular types of RNA, with new forms still being discovered. Ribosomal RNA builds the actual site of protein synthesis, called the ribosome. Messenger RNA brings over instructions from DNA blueprints to be carried out in the ribosome. Transfer RNA brings over the raw materials needed to build proteins in the ribosome.


[1] Leontis, N. B., & Westhof, E. (2001). Geometric nomenclature and classification of RNA base pairs. Rna, 7(4), 499-512.
[2] Turnbaugh, P. J., Ley, R. E., Hamady, M., Fraser-Liggett, C. M., Knight, R., & Gordon, J. I. (2007). The human microbiome project. Nature, 449(7164), 804.

[3] Dreyfuss, G., Kim, V. N., & Kataoka, N. (2002). Messenger-RNA-binding proteins and the messages they carry. Nature reviews Molecular cell biology, 3(3), 195.

© 2018 by Janelle E. Letzen, PhD