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Learning Outline

Making ProteinsPre-A&P

Each cell can be thought of as a “protein factory” making the many proteins that build and run the cell (and build other kinds of molecules like carbohydrates and lipids)
We begin with a review of DNA, then move on to the process of DNA synthesis itself.

Structure of DNA


Nucleotide is the subunit, made of three components:

  • Sugar (ribose in RNA; deoxyribose in DNA)
  • Phosphate
  • Nitrogen base
    • Different types of nitrogen base: cytosine, guanine, adenine, thymine (DNA only), uracil (RNA only)
    • First letters are used as abbreviations: C, G, A, T, U
    • Bases may link C-G or G-C and T-A or A-T (in RNA, U-A or A-U)
      • This rule is complementary or obligatory “base-pairing”

Nucleotides combine to form a double helix structure

  • Sugar and phosphate groups link together to form the “backbones” of the double helix
  • The nitrogen bases link in pairs to connect the two backbones
Linked nucleotides

Nucleotides link to form DNA.
Sugars and phosphates link to form the backbones and bases link in pairs to hold both helices together.
(Click image to enlarge it and view source)

dna structure

DNA double helix model.
(click image for larger view)

Genetish—language of genetics

Genetish is a made-up word introduced by author Matt Ridleylion track to describe the coding used by cells in DNA/RNA


  • Every three bases make up one “word” or codon in genetish
  • Each different codon represents a different amino acid
    • Amino acids combine to form polypeptides or proteins


  • A sequence of codons containing the information needed to make one polypeptide/protein is called a gene (gene = “recipe” for one protein)
  • Genes are found at various locations along a DNA molecule (chromatin/chromosome)
  • All genes on all chromosomes is a set of information called the genome
codon table

Codon table. This table is a type of “phrasebook” for the language of “genetish” –showing the meaning of different possible codons.

Function of DNA

The information molecule book-icon-lionden-fw

Master code for proteins made by the cell activity_icon

  • Proteins perform functions that regulate the cell, make up parts of the cell, and regulate the synthesis (and breakdown) of other types of molecules (lipids, carbohydrates, so on)

In humans, temporary “working copies” of specific genes from DNA are in the form of RNA (review Cell Structure & Function)

Information “between the genes” formerly called “junk DNA” may also have functions in regulating gene expression, etc.

Acronym Table
ribosomal RNA
Forms ribosomes
messenger RNA
Unfolded strand contains gene (code for one polypeptide)
transfer RNA
Brings specific amino acids to ribosome and places them according to code on mRNA
nuclear DNA “Master” genetic code in the nucleus
mDNA or mtDNA mitochondrial DNA Additional “master” genetic code in the mitochondrion

woman_dumping_ingredients_in_bowl_md_clrSurvival Guide for Anatomy & Physiology
includes an analogy for learning protein synthesis more easily.

Transcription of RNA

Transcription video

mRNA is a “transcribed” copy of one gene in DNA

DNA unzips at one gene, and other side “fills in” with RNA nucleotides with bases that complement the exposed bases of the DNA strand

  • Promoter – sequence of bases that tells the cell where to start transcribing the gene
  • RNA polymerase – enzyme that facilitates formation of mRNA strand

(click image to enlarge)


mRNA transcript is edited before leaving nucleus

  • Introns – parts of sequence that are deleted (“nonsense”)
  • Exons – parts of sequence the remain in the final mRNA molecule
  • A structure called the spliceosome forms on the mRNA, facilitating the splicing of transcript (removal of introns, gluing together of exons) tv_icon

DNA editing (simplified)
(click image for larger view)

Other forms of RNA (tRNA, mRNA) produced in a similar manner

  • The edited transcript then usually folds into a complex shape, unlike the simple strand of mRNA

mRNA leaves nucleus via nuclear pores

Translation of RNA (protein synthesis) tv_icon


  • Translation occurs in the cytoplasm outside the nucleus


  • Initiation – mRNA associates with rRNA of ribosome
  • Elongation – tRNA brings amino acids into place (anticodons on tRNA complement codons on mRNA) elongating string of amino acids
  • Termination – protein is released

EAch tRNA (blue) brings a specific amino acid to ribosome (green) and links to the complementary codon on mRNA strand. As amino acids link together with peptide bonds, a polypeptide grows in length.



  • Chromosomal mutations – additions, deletions to chromosome
  • Point mutations – change in one or few nucleotides in a gene sequence


  • Mutations can be spontaneous (no known cause)
  • Can be caused by radiation (x-ray, UV, etc.), chemicals, mechanical damage, extreme temperature, and other factors

Regulation of gene expression

Chromosome level

  • Packing – DNA wraps around histone proteins, forming “beads” called nucleosomes
  • Packing can prevent certain genes from being activated (transcribed)

Transcription level

  • Master genes turn on a group of other genes
  • Enhancer genes change the rate of transcription of other genes
  • Regulatory chemicals, such as steroid hormones, may activate certain genes
  • mRNA can be edited in different ways (exons can be linked in different ways)
  • mRNA can be “made ahead of time” and then “masked” until needed later

Translation level

  • Translation can be halted by regulatory mechanisms in the cell
  • Interferon released by nearby virus-infected cells can trigger the activation of genes that produce translation-inhibiting proteins
    • This causes the cell to be more careful in checking mRNA and will halt translation of viral RNA that has infected the cell
  • RNA interference (RNAi)
    • Mechanism by which translation of mRNA can be disrupted (interference)
    • May help regulate gene expression
    • May help defend against mutations and viral RNA infection
    • Also called gene silencing

Location of DNA


  • 46 chromosomes (diploid number) within nucleus (except during cell division)
DNA structure and location

DNA location and structure.


  • Single, ringlike strand of DNA comprising one chromosome
mitochondrial dna

mitochondrial dnaMitochondrial DNA (mtDNA).
This ringlike strand of DNA, similar to that seen in bacteria, contains genes that code for enzymes needed in mitochondrial function. Click on image to see larger source image, which is labeled with gene locations.

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Last updated: March 27, 2019 at 20:57 pm