RNA, the nucleic acid you probably haven’t heard of

So, almost every time I explain my current research to people, it’s something like “I do biology research” and then they ask “What kind of research?” and I then say “DNA repair” and then they say “DNA can repair itself?” That is the typical conversation but one thing that’s pretty amazing is that deoxyribonucleic acid (shown below), DNA, has become nearly ubiquitous in our culture. Everyone seems to know what it is, or at least something about it. The heritable genetic material that was hinted at but not verified as DNA until the famous Hershey-Chase experiment of 1952 has in less than 70 years become such a widespread idea, while the other major nucleic acid of life, ribonucleic acid (RNA), is still unknown to the vast majority of people.

 

The only difference is that DNA is chemically more boring than RNA

 

DNA would be NOTHING without RNA, and DNA is largely inactive in the cell, it’s mainly there as the backup copy for RNA since it’s more stable. RNA can pair with DNA, get what it wants from DNA (use it as a template), and then leave DNA behind and go party with some proteins. This is the “central dogma” of biology (shown below).

What’s even more interesting is that RNA can fold up and do almost ALL the functions of life. That’s right people, RNA doesn’t need to go out to party with the proteins, RNA IS THE PARTY. RNA can replicate itself or cut itself (so emo) or join two pieces of RNA together. In fact, many many scientists believe that life began with a completely RNA world. Life is the random combination of RNA that eventually started “coding” into proteins. RNA may have started life, I wish people gave it the freaking credit it deserves (i.e. just knowing that it exists). DNA is like an old phone book or an SQL database, useful, but it might as well stand for Does Nothing Amazing.

Life and how it started

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