What is Ribonucleic acid RNA?

Ribonucleic Acid, commonly known as RNA, is a crucial compound composed of polymerizable nucleotides that form the building blocks of life. The Swiss scientist, Dr. Friedrich Miesche, was the first to discover and isolate RNA in 1868 in pus samples. RNA can be found in abundance in all living organisms, including animals, plant cells, and microorganisms, where it often forms nucleoproteins in combination with proteins.

However, different nucleic acids vary in their chemical composition and nucleotide arrangement, which influences their function. RNA and Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) are the two main types of nucleic acids, each serving a distinct purpose. DNA is the primary material for storing, replicating, and transmitting genetic information, while RNA plays a vital role in protein synthesis.

The transfer RNA (tRNA) helps transport activated amino acids, messenger RNA (mRNA) acts as a template for protein synthesis. The Ribosomal RNA (rRNA) serves as the site of protein synthesis by cells. Nucleic acids not only serve as basic genetic material but also play a critical role in the biosynthesis of proteins, influencing key life phenomena such as growth, inheritance, and variation.

Ribonucleic acid structure

  • RNA, a crucial genetic information carrier, not only exists within biological cells but also in some viruses and viroids. This long-chain molecule is formed through the condensation of multiple ribonucleotides, bonded by a phosphodiester bond. Each ribonucleotide comprises one base, one five-carbon sugar, and one molecule of phosphoric acid. The four main bases- adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), and uridine (U)- make up the four distinct nucleotides. As a result, the degradation of RNA leads to the production of different nucleotides, including:
    Adenine 5′-monophosphate (AMP)
    Guanosine 5′-monophosphate (GMP)
    Cytosine 5′-monophosphate (CMP)
    Uridine 5′-monophosphate (UMP).

The Role of Ribonucleic acid

Proteins, nucleic acids, lipids, and polysaccharides are considered the key biological macromolecules that drive life. Although people are well aware of the significant role of proteins in the body, it is actually nucleic acids that are the most critical life substance. This is because the essence of life lies in self-replication, and nucleic acids have the ability to replicate themselves.

In contrast, protein replication is dependent on the blueprint ordered by nucleic acids. Nucleic acids control the synthesis of amino acids, arranging them into the specific order required to form the desired protein. As of yet, no protein has been found without the presence of nucleic acids.

During the study of viruses, scientists discovered that nucleic acids are the main component of viruses, with proteins, fats, and lipoproteins serving only as outer shells. When the virus infects parasitic cells, it sheds its outer shell and injects only its nucleic acid, allowing the cell to synthesize the offspring virus under the control of the nucleic acid.  This relationship was likened by American scientists to that between a person and a car. The nucleic acid can be thought of as the person, the protein as the car, and the person drives the car around. The person and the car are both things that have life and movement, but the true life force is the person and the car is merely a human-made shell.

Recently, scientists have even discovered a type of virus that consists solely of nucleic acids and is capable of breeding offspring, further emphasizing the significance of nucleic acids in life. Without nucleic acids, there would be no protein, and hence, no life.

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