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What is RNA? - Overview

Lesson Transcript
Kimberly Carpenter

Kimberly has an undergraduate degree in Lab Sciences and a Master's degree in Education.

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Christianlly Cena

Christianlly has taught college Physics, Natural science, Earth science, and facilitated laboratory courses. He has a master's degree in Physics and is currently pursuing his doctorate degree.

This lesson explains the basic structure of RNA (ribonucleic acid). It also discusses the various components that come together in the formation of RNA and provides information about two of the most known forms of RNA. A short quiz will follow. Updated: 11/04/2021

What Is RNA?

RNA is the acronym for ribonucleic acid. RNA is a vital molecule found in your cells, and it's necessary for life. Pieces of RNA are used to construct proteins inside of your body so that new cell growth may take place. When we try to visualize RNA, the best way to do so is to picture a long, spiraling ladder. If it remained in one piece, the long, spiraling ladder would be referred to as deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). DNA and RNA are actually thought of as cousins. Now, if you split the long, spiraling ladder down the very middle, you have a pretty vivid picture of RNA. While it's true that RNA exists in various forms, this is its basic structure.

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  • 0:04 What Is RNA?
  • 0:53 Main Functions of RNA
  • 1:37 Types of RNA
  • 2:33 Components of RNA
  • 3:24 Creation of RNA
  • 4:14 Lesson Summary
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Main Functions of RNA

There are two main functions of RNA. It assists DNA by serving as a messenger to relay the proper genetic information to countless numbers of ribosomes in your body, with ribosomes being the small protein-creating factories located inside of a cell. The other main function of RNA is to select the correct amino acid needed by each ribosome to build new proteins for your body, with an amino acid being one ingredient used to make a protein. While RNA is quite small in stature, your body could not perform as needed without its proper assistance. Let's discuss the two most important types of RNA to get a better idea about RNA's function inside of your body's cells.

Types of RNA

The two most important types of RNA are messenger RNA (mRNA) and transfer RNA (tRNA). You can picture the first type, mRNA, as the messenger because that is essentially both its name and job. mRNA is responsible for traveling to the ribosomes of a cell. The mRNA carries a genetic message that tells the ribosomes when it's time to create whatever type of protein that your body needs.

You can picture the second type, tRNA, as the delivery person in a large factory who fetches the proper item to fulfill an order. tRNA is responsible for selecting the proper amino acid to deliver to the ribosome inside of a cell. After the ribosome receives the proper amino acid from the tRNA and the genetic information from the mRNA, it may begin making the correct protein needed by your body.

Components of RNA

The main components of RNA are referred to as bases, which are made from sugar and phosphate. There are four bases: adenine, guanine, cytosine, and uracil. Although ribonucleic acid is best visualized as a one-sided spiraling ladder, the bases are quite attracted to one another. This attraction causes RNA to contort its shape into various forms, which gives the bases the ability to pair together and leave the cell to perform the essential functions that your body requires. The four RNA bases will pair together as an adenine/uracil pair and a guanine/cytosine pair. Alterations in this partnership will cause issues with various constructions of proteins and transmission of information, as well as more in-depth problems.

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Additional Activities

RNA Word Scramble Activity

In this activity, you will check your knowledge regarding the basic structure and function of an RNA presented in the lesson.


For this activity, study the scrambled letters and try to unscramble or rearrange the letters to form a word or phrase that fits the given clues. To do this, you must right-click and print this page. With a pencil and an eraser, neatly write your answers in the blank space provided.

Scrambled Words



  1. _____ _____ are organic compounds that are carried by the tRNA to the ribosome.
  2. RNA is a molecule that is necessary for various biological roles, such as in coding _____.
  3. _____ binds with sugar to form the structural framework of RNA.
  4. The mRNA is a molecule that _____ the cell nucleus and moves to the ribosomes to signal the start of protein production.
  5. DNA or deoxyribonucleic acid is a long molecule that contains _____ instructions for the development, growth, etc.
  6. The _____ of a cell would function as micromachine for biological protein synthesis.
  7. A compound called _____ is common in tissues and binds with uracil in RNA.
  8. A small molecule called tRNA selects and _____ the amino acids to the ribosomes.
  9. The _____ _____ is a membrane-bound structure that contains the DNA.
  10. _____ is the process by which the information in a strand of DNA is copied into an RNA.

Answer Key


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