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4.4: RNA

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    RNA, the other nucleic acid, that's how. Specifically mRNA. RNA, the middle player in the central dogma. This image is an abstract representation of tRNA. Without tRNA, mRNA, and rRNA, proteins cannot be made.


    DNA alone cannot ‘‘tell’’ your cells how to make proteins. It needs the help of RNA, ribonucleic acid, the other main player in the central dogma of molecular biology. Remember, DNA ‘‘lives’’ in the nucleus, but proteins are made on the ribosomes in the cytoplasm. How does the genetic information get from the nucleus to the cytoplasm? RNA is the answer.

    RNA vs. DNA

    RNA, like DNA, is a nucleic acid. However, RNA differs from DNA in several ways. In addition to being smaller than DNA, RNA also

    • consists of one nucleotide chain instead of two,
    • contains the nitrogen base uracil (U) instead of thymine,
    • contains the sugar ribose instead of deoxyribose.

    Types of RNA

    There are three main types of RNA, all of which are involved in making proteins.

    1. Messenger RNA (mRNA) copies the genetic instructions from DNA in the nucleus, and carries the instructions to the cytoplasm.
    2. Ribosomal RNA (rRNA) helps form ribosomes, the organelle where proteins are assembled.
    3. Transfer RNA (tRNA) brings amino acids to ribosomes, where they are joined together to form proteins.

    Shows the three types of RNA: mRNA, tRNA, and rRNA

    Shown are the three types of RNA and their roles: (1) mRNA contains the genetic message, (2) tRNA transfers the amino acids to the ribosome, (3) rRNA is the main component of the ribosome. More on the roles of the RNAs will be discussed in these concepts: ‘‘Transcription of DNA to RNA’’, ‘‘Genetic Code’’, and ‘‘Translation of RNA to Protein’’.


    • RNA differs from DNA in several ways.
    • There are three main types of RNA: messenger RNA (mRNA), ribosomal RNA (rRNA), and transfer RNA (tRNA).
    • Each type plays a different in role in making proteins.

    Making Connections

    Explore More

    Use these resources to answer the questions that follow.

    Explore More I

    1. What is the role of RNA?
    2. What are the components of an RNA nucleotide?
    3. How does the structure of RNA differ from that of DNA?
    4. What is an advantage of being single-stranded?

    Explore More II


    1. What are the three main types of RNA? Describe their roles.
    2. Compare and contrast DNA and RNA.

    4.4: RNA is shared under a CK-12 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by CK-12 Foundation via source content that was edited to conform to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.

    CK-12 Foundation
    CK-12 Foundation is licensed under CK-12 Curriculum Materials License