DNA, or Deoxyribonucleic Acid, is described, in Encarta Encyclopedia as a genetic material of all cellular organisms and most viruses. DNA carries the information needed to direct protein synthesis and replication. Protein synthesis is the production of the proteins needed by the cell or virus for its activities and development. Replication is the process by which DNA copies itself for each descendant cell or virus, passing on the information needed for protein synthesis. In most cellular organisms, DNA is organized on chromosomes located in the nucleus of the cell.
A molecule of DNA consists of two chains, strands composed of a large number of nucleotides, that are linked together to form a chain. These chains look like a twisted ladder and are called a double helix. Each nucleotide consists of three units: sugar molecules called deoxyribose, a phosphate group, and one of four different nitrogen containing compounds, also called bases. The four are adenine (A), guanine (G), thymine (T), and cytosine (C). The deoxyribose molecule occupies the center of the nucleotide, with the phosphate group on one side and a base on the other. The phosphate group of each nucleotide is also linked to the deoxyribose of the adjacent nucleotide in the chain. These linked deoxyribose-phosphate subunits form the side rails of the ladder. The bases face inward toward each other, forming the steps of the ladder.
The nucleotides in one DNA strand have a specific association with the corresponding nucleotides in the other DNA strand. Because of the chemical affinity of the bases, nucleotides containing adenine are always paired with nucleotides containing thymine, and nucleotides containing cytosine are always paired with nucleotides containing guanine. The complementary bases are joined to each other by weak chemical bonds called hydrogen bonds.
DNA carries the instructions for the production of proteins. A protein is composed of smaller molecules called amino acids, and... [continues]
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