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Exploring Biology: DNA Replication and Structure
In molecular biology, DNA replication is the biological process of producing two identical copies of DNA from one parent DNA molecule. This process occurs in all living organisms and is the basis of biological inheritance. Cells have a special property of division, which requires the replication of DNA. DNA is made up of a double helix of two complementary strands. During replication, these strands are separated. Each strand of the original DNA molecule then serves as a template for the creation of its counterpart, a process known as semiconservative replication. Cellular proofreading and error-checking mechanisms ensure nearly perfect fidelity for DNA replication.
In a cell, DNA replication begins at specific locations in the genome, or origins of replication. Replication forks grow bi-directionally from the origin as DNA unwinds during the origin and synthesis of new strands. Several proteins are associated with the replication fork in initiating and continuing DNA synthesis. Most prominently, DNA polymerase synthesizes new strands by adding complementary nucleotides to each (template) strand. DNA replication occurs during the S-phase of interphase. DNA replication can also be done in vitro (artificially, outside the cell). DNA polymerases isolated from cells and synthetic DNA primers can be used to initiate DNA synthesis at known sequences in the template DNA molecule. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a common laboratory technique, cyclically applies such synthetic synthesis to amplify a specific target DNA fragment from a pool of DNA. DNA normally exists as a double-stranded structure, with both strands joining together to form a characteristic double-helix. Each single strand of DNA is a chain of four types of nucleotides. Nucleotides in DNA consist of deoxyribose sugars, phosphates, and nucleobases.
The four types of nucleotides correspond to the four nucleobases adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine, commonly abbreviated as A,C, G, and T. Adenine and guanine are purine bases, while cytosine and thymine are pyrimidines. These nucleotides form phosphodiester bonds, forming the phosphate-deoxyribose backbone of the DNA double helix, and the nuclease bases point inward (ie, toward the opposite strand). Nucleotides (bases) join together through hydrogen bonds between strands to form base pairs. Adenine pairs with thymine (two hydrogen bonds) and guanine pairs with cytosine (strong: three hydrogen bonds).
DNA strands have a direction, and the different ends of the same strand are called the “3′ (three-prime) end” and the “5′ (five-prime) end. As a rule, if the base sequence of a single strand of DNA is given, the left end of the sequence is the 5′ end. , while the right end of the sequence is the 3′ end. The strands of the double helix are antiparallel, one 5′ to 3′ and the opposite strand 3′ to 5′. These terms refer to the carbon atom in deoxyribose to which the next phosphate in the chain attaches. Directionality has consequences in DNA synthesis. , because DNA polymerase can only synthesize DNA in one direction by adding nucleotides to the 3′ end of a DNA strand. Adding complementary bases to DNA (via hydrogen bonding) means that the information contained in each strand is redundant.
Phosphodiester (inter-strand) bonds are stronger than hydrogen (inter-strand) bonds. This allows the strands to separate from each other. Nucleotides on one strand can therefore be used to rearrange nucleotides on a newly synthesized partner strand. It is important to know about the structure of DNA and its replication.
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