The DNA in each chromosome constitutes many genes. The DNA also contains large sequences that do not code for any protein and their function is not known. The gene of the coding region encodes instructions that allow a cell to produce a specific protein or enzyme. There are nearly 50,000 and 100,000 genes with each being made up of hundreds of thousands of chemical bases.
In order to make proteins, the gene from the DNA is coped by each of the chemical bases into messenger RNA (ribonucleic acid) or mRNA. The mRNA moves out of the nucleus and uses cell organelles in the cytoplasm called ribosomes to form the polypeptide or amino acid that finally folds and configures to form the protein.
Genes consist of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). DNA contains the code, or blueprint, used to synthesize a protein. Genes vary in size, depending on the sizes of the proteins for which they code. Each DNA molecule is a long double helix that resembles a spiral staircase containing millions of steps. The steps of the staircase consist of pairs of four types of molecules called bases (nucleotides). In each step, the base adenine (A) is paired with the base thymine (T), or the base guanine (G) is paired with the base cytosine (C).
[12:41 AM, 9/27/2018] Smita sunshine: Synthesizing proteins
Proteins are composed of a long chain of amino acids linked together one after another. There are 20 different amino acids that can be used in protein synthesis—some must come from the diet (essential amino acids), and some are made by enzymes in the body. As a chain of amino acids is put together, it folds upon itself to create a complex three-dimensional structure. It is the shape of the folded structure that determines its function in the body. Because the folding is determined by the precise sequence of amino acids, each different sequence results in a different protein. Some proteins (such as hemoglobin) contain several different folded chains. Instructions for synthesizing proteins are coded within the DNA.
together, it folds upon itself to create a complex three-dimensional structure. It is the shape of the folded structure that determines its function in the body. Because the folding is determined by the precise sequence of amino acids, each different sequence results in a different protein. Some proteins (such as hemoglobin) contain several different folded chains. Instructions for synthesizing proteins are coded within the DNA.
Information is coded within DNA by the sequence in which the bases (A, T, G, and C) are arranged. The code is written in triplets. That is, the bases are arranged in groups of three. Particular sequences of three bases in DNA code for specific instructions, such as the addition of one amino acid to a chain. For example, GCT (guanine, cytosine, thymine) codes for the addition of the amino acid alanine, and GTT (guanine, thymine, thymine) codes for the addition of the amino acid valine. Thus, the sequence of amino acids in a protein is determined by the order of triplet base pairs in the gene for that protein on the DNA molecule. The process of turning coded genetic information into a protein involves transcription and translation.
Transcription and translation
Transcription is the process in which information coded in DNA is transferred (transcribed) to ribonucleic acid (RNA). RNA is a long chain of bases just like a strand of DNA, except that the base uracil (U) replaces the base thymine (T). Thus, RNA contains triplet-coded information just like DNA.
When transcription is initiated, part of the DNA double helix splits open and unwinds. One of the unwound strands of DNA acts as a template against which a complementary strand of RNA forms. The complementary strand of RNA is called messenger RNA (mRNA). The mRNA separates from the DNA, leaves the nucleus, and travels into the cell cytoplasm (the part of the cell outside the nucleus—see Figure: Inside a Cell). There, the mRNA attaches to a ribosome, which is a tiny structure in the cell where protein synthesis occurs.
With translation, the mRNA code (from the DNA) tells the ribosome the order and type of amino acids to link together. The amino acids are brought to the ribosome by a much smaller type of RNA called transfer RNA (tRNA). Each molecule of tRNA brings one amino acid to be incorporated into the growing chain of protein, which is folded into a complex three-dimensional structure under the influence of nearby molecules called chaperone molecules.
Control of gene expression
There are many types of cells in a person’s body, such as heart cells, liver cells, and muscle cells. These cells look and act differently and produce very different chemical substances. However, every cell is the descendant of a single fertilized egg cell and as such contains essentially the same DNA. Cells acquire their very different appearances and functions because different genes are expressed in different cells (and at different times in the same cell).
The information about when a gene should be expressed is also coded in the DNA. Gene expression depends on the type of tissue, the age of the person, the presence of specific chemical signals, and numerous other factors and mechanisms. Knowledge of these other factors and mechanisms that control gene expression is growing rapidly, but many of these factors and mechanisms are still poorly understood.
The mechanisms by which genes control each other are very complicated. Genes have markers to indicate where transcription should begin and end. Various chemical substances (such as histones) in and around the DNA block or permit transcription. Also, a strand of RNA called antisense RNA can pair with a complementary strand of mRNA and block translation.
Cells reproduce by splitting in two. Because each new cell requires a complete set of DNA molecules, the DNA molecules in the original cell must reproduce (replicate) themselves during cell division. Replication happens in a manner similar to transcription, except that the entire double-strand DNA molecule unwinds and splits in two. After splitting, bases on each strand bind to complementary bases (A with T, and G with C) floating nearby. When this process is complete, two identical double-strand DNA molecules exist.
To prevent mistakes during replication, cells have a “proofreading” function to help ensure that bases are paired properly. There are also chemical mechanisms to repair DNA that was not copied properly. However, because of the billions of base pairs involved in, and the complexity of, the protein synthesis process, mistakes can happen. Such mistakes can occur for numerous reasons (including exposure to radiation, drugs, or viruses) or for no apparent reason. Minor variations in DNA are very common and occur in most people. Most variations do not affect subsequent copies of the gene. Mistakes that are duplicated in subsequent copies are called mutations.
Inherited mutations are those that may be passed on to offspring. Mutations can be inherited only when they affect the reproductive cells (sperm or egg). Mutations that do not affect reproductive cells affect the descendants of the mutated cell (for example, becoming a cancer) but are not passed on to offspring.
Mutations may be unique to an individual or family, and most mutations are rare. Mutations that become so common that they affect more than 1% of a population are called polymorphisms (for example, the human blood types A, B, AB, and O). Most polymorphisms have no effect on the phenotype (the actual structure and function of a person’s body).
Mutations may involve small or large segments of DNA. Depending on its size and location, the mutation may have no apparent effect or it may alter the amino acid sequence in a protein or decrease the amount of protein produced. If the protein has a different amino acid sequence, it may function differently or not at all. An absent or nonfunctioning protein is often harmful or fatal. For example, in phenylketonuria, a mutation results in the deficiency or absence of the enzyme phenylalanine hydroxylase. This deficiency allows the amino acid phenylalanine (absorbed from the diet) to accumulate in the body, ultimately causing severe intellectual disability. In rare cases, a mutation introduces a change that is advantageous. For example, in the case of the sickle cell gene, when a person inherits two copies of the abnormal gene, the person will develop sickle cell disease. However, when a person inherits only one copy of the sickle cell gene (called a carrier), the person develops some protection against malaria (a blood infection). Although the protection against malaria can help a carrier survive, sickle cell disease (in a person who has two copies of the gene) causes symptoms and complications that may shorten life span.
Natural selection refers to the concept that mutations that impair survival in a given environment are less likely to be passed on to offspring (and thus become less common in the population), whereas mutations that improve survival progressively become more common. Thus, beneficial mutations, although initially rare, eventually become common. The slow changes that occur over time caused by mutations and natural selection in an interbreeding population collectively are called evolution.