In 1954, French scientist and future Nobel laureate Jacques Monod (1910–1976) famously said, “What is true in E. coli is true in the elephant,” suggesting that the biochemistry of life was maintained throughout evolution and is shared in all forms of known life. Since Monod’s famous statement, we have learned a great deal about the mechanisms of gene regulation, expression, and replication in living cells. All cells use DNA for information storage, share the same genetic code, and use similar mechanisms to replicate and express it. Although many aspects of genetics are universally shared, variations do exist among contemporary genetic systems. We now know that within the shared overall theme of the genetic mechanism, there are significant differences among the three domains of life: Eukarya, Archaea, and Bacteria. Additionally, viruses, cellular parasites but not themselves living cells, show dramatic variation in their genetic material and the replication and gene expression processes. Some of these differences have allowed us to engineer clinical tools such as antibiotics and antiviral drugs that specifically inhibit the reproduction of pathogens yet are harmless to their hosts.
- 11.1: What Are Genes?
- A gene is composed of DNA that is “read” or transcribed to produce an RNA molecule during the process of transcription. One major type of RNA molecule, called messenger RNA (mRNA), provides the information for the ribosome to catalyze protein synthesis in a process called translation. The processes of transcription and translation are collectively referred to as gene expression.
- 11.2: DNA Replication
- The DNA replication process is semiconservative, which results in two DNA molecules, each having one parental strand of DNA and one newly synthesized strand. In bacteria, the initiation of replication occurs at the origin of replication, where supercoiled DNA is unwound by DNA gyrase, made single-stranded by helicase, and bound by single-stranded binding protein to maintain its single-stranded state.
- 11.3: RNA Transcription
- During the process of transcription, the information encoded within the DNA sequence of one or more genes is transcribed into a strand of RNA, also called an RNA transcript. The resulting single-stranded RNA molecule, composed of ribonucleotides containing the bases adenine, cytosine, guanine, and uracil, acts as a mobile molecular copy of the original DNA sequence. Transcription in prokaryotes and in eukaryotes requires the DNA double helix to partially unwind in the region of RNA synthesis.
- 11.4: Protein Synthesis (Translation)
- The synthesis of proteins consumes more of a cell’s energy than any other metabolic process. In turn, proteins account for more mass than any other macromolecule of living organisms. They perform virtually every function of a cell, serving as both functional (e.g., enzymes) and structural elements. The process of translation, or protein synthesis, the second part of gene expression, involves the decoding by a ribosome of an mRNA message into a polypeptide product.
- 11.5: Mutations
- A mutation is a heritable change in the DNA sequence of an organism. The resulting organism, called a mutant, may have a recognizable change in phenotype compared to the wild type, which is the phenotype most commonly observed in nature. A change in the DNA sequence is conferred to mRNA through transcription, and may lead to an altered amino acid sequence in a protein on translation.
- 11.6: How Asexual Prokaryotes Achieve Genetic Diversity
- How do organisms whose dominant reproductive mode is asexual create genetic diversity? In prokaryotes, horizontal gene transfer (HGT), the introduction of genetic material from one organism to another organism within the same generation, is an important way to introduce genetic diversity. HGT allows even distantly related species to share genes, influencing their phenotypes.
- 11.7: Gene Regulation - Operon Theory
- Genomic DNA contains both structural genes, which encode products that serve as cellular structures or enzymes, and regulatory genes, which encode products that regulate gene expression. The expression of a gene is a highly regulated process. Whereas regulating gene expression in multicellular organisms allows for cellular differentiation, in single-celled organisms like prokaryotes, it ensures that a cell’s resources are not wasted making proteins that the cell does not need at that time.
Thumbnail: DNA Double Helix. (Public Domain; Apers0n).