RNA + Knowledge

The blueprint of life

The basis of life in its simplest form consists of four components: DNA, RNA, proteins and lipids. DNA and RNA are nucleic acids (DNA = Deoxyribonucleic Acid / RNA = Ribonucleic Acid) and are found in the cells of all living organisms. The tasks of nucleic acids are to store and transmit genetic information.

Proteins belong to the so-called macromolecules. Proteins perform important functions in our body by acting as enzymes, receptors, antibodies or as building blocks for skin, hair, connective tissue, muscles and bones. The blueprint for protein molecules is stored in the cell nucleus in the form of DNA. The DNA itself does not have the ability to build anything; it serves as a place of storage for information. To produce proteins, the blueprint in the DNA is first copied into another macromolecule, the RNA. The RNA is exported from the cell nucleus to the sites of protein synthesis, the ribosomes. Ribosomes read the RNA sequence and produce new protein molecules according to the blueprint.

RNA - a multi-talent in the cell

Ribonucleic acids – or RNAs for short - are versatile macromolecules in our cells. They occur in different lengths and structures and can perform numerous functions. They act as messengers, blueprints, interpreters, building blocks, catalysts and, in certain viruses, even as genetic material. In research, RNA molecules are also used as tools; for example in the form of the CRISPR gene scissors, by which RNAs can be used to modify specific sections of the genome.

More information about the CRISPR gene scissors can be found here


How to build a protein

RNA also plays an important role in the synthesis of proteins. In an initial step, a specific DNA section (a gene) is copied into a RNA molecule termed mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid). Using these building instructions, amino acids are assembled into chains in the correct order - and a new protein is created.

Of around 22,000 genes that are present in the genome, our cells can produce almost four times as many proteins – almost 100’000.This does not happen by chance. Gene activity is tightly controlled by gene regulation, which determines the time of the process as well as the selection and number of genes.

You can find out more about this process here (RNA&Research, "Split genes").

More information about the many talents of the RNA can be found here.


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