What is RNA? RNA is the base chemical form of life, the element which makes DNA and RNA molecules. In fact, RNA is a sequence of base pairs that together make up a complete functioning genetic material. RNAs (rationally dimethylated RNA) is genetic material whose function has yet to be defined.
RNA can be constructed from different ingredients. The building blocks of RNA are nucleotides (nucleotides are atoms or particles with nucleoside chains), along with one or two non-nucleoside strands of RNA called nonamyloids. There are at least three major sets of RNAs: bacterial, archaeal and eukaryotic. The difference between these RNAs lies in their construction, two of the three basic types being protein based and non-protein based.
What is RNA if not a nucleic acid? Nucleotides are made up of amino acids that can either be single-stranded or double-stranded. Single-stranded RNAs are the common ones we know today, consisting of pairs of identical DNA strands. Double-stranded RNAs are the ones we are familiar with: DNA strands that are rolled into pairs. One side of a double-stranded RNA has an adenine or cytosine while the other side has a value.
What is RNA when used in biology, though, is not just single-stranded or double-stranded RNAs, but rather genetic material whose structure can be diagrammed in DNA. This genetic material can be expressed in living organisms through gene expression, where specific genetic materials are produced in cells for a variety of reasons, such as producing insulin in the body, or developing lungs that have a certain kind of cell lining. Many people don’t realize that the basis of all life on Earth is DNA: it is the basis of all life on Earth and it is used extensively in all forms of DNA-expression biology.
When RNAs are used in gene expression biology, the DNA strands become pairs, and then a new strand is formed. What is now known as RNA is a piece of RNA; this is how the molecule ‘reads’ DNA. There are two kinds of RNA molecules in nature, and these are protonated and non-protonated. In terms of reading DNA, the non-protonated kind is what we use in DNA analysis and DNA engineering: it reads differently than the protonated kind.
So, back to the original question: what is RNA? Basically, RNA is a nucleoside base. In order to produce DNA from RNA, a phosphate is wrapped around one of the nucleotides, forming a short strand of RNA. When this short piece of RNA is transcribed into DNA by complementary DNA, the strands lock together and produce a functional DNA sequence. This process can create different types of DNA sequences, such as pairs of DNA helical’s, tandem repeats and multistep DNA structures, which are essential for life. The beauty of RNAs is that they contain just three letters of DNA: A, G and T. This is how scientists identify them as RNA, even though they may look much like traditional nucleotides.
In the case of RNAs, it’s important to understand that the RNA molecules don’t stand still: their motion is necessary to make them function as biological systems. The molecular basis of RNAs is in fact quite dynamic: when a DNA sequence is mapped out using a DNA sequencing algorithm, the positions of RNAs can be identified using the analogy of a street address. Here, a set of sequence ‘heads’ (a single DNA helix) proceed along the DNA strand until they hit an ‘ending’ (a double helix), then stop and are turned into either a T or G base. This mapping of DNA sequence positions is what makes it possible to determine the details of chemical reactions without having to work too hard on the computer.
The science of RNAs is only just beginning to unravel, but it’s already yielding exciting new insights into the workings of gene expression and evolution. For example, thanks to sequencing and analysis of RNA transcripts, scientists have been able to decode the genetic basis of some complex biological processes, such as how the immune system responds to a virus. Studying RNAs is also assisting researchers in understanding gene regulation, the way in which genes are switched on and off in cells, and how these switches affect the activity of other genes. This, in turn, is particularly relevant to the study of cancer, in which genes play a pivotal role in both proliferation and resistance against disease.