Genetic Material: Definition, Structure & Function

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  • 0:00 Definition of Genetic Material
  • 0:40 Structure and Function
  • 3:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Chinequa Shelander
Genetic material, also known as deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA), plays a fundamental role in the composition of living organisms. Learn more about the definition, structure, and function, then test your understanding with a quiz.

Definition of Genetic Material

Ever wonder why your eyes are a certain color? Or, why you look like your mom or dad? Well, your genetic material known as deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is the reason. DNA is the hereditary material found in the nucleus of eukaryotic cells (animal and plant) and the cytoplasm of prokaryotic cells (bacteria) that determines the composition of the organism. DNA is found in the nucleus of every cell, and it is exactly the same in each cell. There is another type of genetic material found in cells and viruses known as ribonucleic acid (RNA).

Structure and Function

DNA contains all the secrets that make you so awesome! So, it is super important that the cell keeps the DNA safe. DNA has so much information that it could stretch from the earth to the sun four times! No seriously, four times! I'm sure you're thinking, how does all that information get into something so small? Well, DNA is highly organized in order to keep all information safe, yet accessible to the cell. This is a great thing because you don't want to lose your awesomeness! DNA is comprised of four chemical bases also known as nucleotides: adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), and thymine (T). These bases pair with one another, A with T and C with G. Each base is attached to a sugar (ribose) and a phosphate molecule: hence the name deoxyribonucleic acid.

Now that we have the basic building blocks of DNA, let's get into the structure. DNA is double stranded, and each strand is held together by the pairing of the nucleotides. Remember what we mentioned above: A loves T and C loves G. These bases never cheat on one another; they only pair with the partner they love! The double stranded DNA is spirally coiled to form a helix. You will find many textbooks refer to DNA as a double helix. This double helix looks much like a ladder with the nucleotides representing the rungs on the ladder and the sugar and phosphate are the sides. The double helixes are then wrapped around proteins called histones and packaged into chromosomes.

The other type of genetic material called ribonucleic acid (RNA) is structurally similar to DNA, but there are a few differences--primarily in their chemical bases. Before we get more into the differences, let's examine the similarities. Both have a sugar, phosphate group, and four chemical bases. Unlike DNA which is double stranded, RNA is single stranded. The other major difference is the bases that are found in RNA. RNA contains adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), and uracil (U). So, in RNA the base thymine is replaced with uracil. In RNA the base pairs are A loves U and C loves G.

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