What is RNA? - Overview

Instructor: Kimberly Carpenter

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

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.

What is RNA?

RNA is the acronym for ribonucleic acid. RNA is a vital molecule found in your cells, and it is 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 is true that RNA exists in various forms, this is its basic structure.

DNA to RNA split

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. The other main function of RNA is to select the correct amino acid needed by each ribosome to build new proteins for your body. 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. It is responsible for traveling to the ribosomes of a cell. These are the small protein-creating factories located inside of a cell. The mRNA carries a genetic message that tells the ribosomes when it is 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. Transfer RNA is responsible for selecting the proper amino acid (one ingredient used to make a protein) 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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