What is nucleic acid?
Nucleic acid is a macromolecule that’s essential for life. The main types of nucleic acids are deoxyribonucleic acid (better known as DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA).
DNA is the genetic material found in the nucleus of cells of complex organisms (eukaryotes). It contains information about organisms’ characteristics.
RNA, on the other hand, has various functions in the cell:
- Ribosomal RNA (rRNA) synthesizes proteins.
- Transfer RNA (tRNA) transports the amino acids necessary for protein synthesis.
- Regulatory RNA regulates gene expression.
Nucleic acids are present in all cells, and they are in charge of storing, transmitting, and expressing genetic information. Cells are essential for life because they perform vital functions like obtaining energy, synthesizing proteins, transporting materials, and reproducing. However, not all living organisms have cells; some, like viruses, use the cells of other organisms for their metabolic and reproductive processes.
What is a macromolecule, and how is it different from small molecules?
The main differences between a macromolecule and small molecules are:
- Macromolecules usually have a much higher molecular weight.
- They may have complex, three-dimensional structures and important functions for cellular life. For example, nucleic acids encode genetic information, and proteins catalyze chemical reactions.
- They have variable physical and chemical properties. While small molecules have fixed, limited properties, macromolecules may change shape or structure in response to external or internal stimuli. In the case of nucleic acids and genetic information, this enables the mutations involved in natural selection, for example.
What is the importance of studying nucleic acids?
The study of nucleic acids, particularly DNA and RNA, has been fundamental to understanding and treating numerous human pathologies. Research on this topic has therapeutic applications that are still unknown by science.
What applications do nucleic acids have in industry?
The industrial applications of nucleic acids are quite varied, but like nucleic acids themselves, they all have something to do with the conservation and improvement of life, whether directly or indirectly.
Some of the medical applications of nucleic acids are:
- Production of medicines, especially in gene therapies, to treat diseases like cancer and other genetic diseases.
- Creation of biotechnological products, such as recombinant enzymes and proteins used in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries.
- Diagnosis of infectious and genetic diseases using techniques like DNA sequencing and PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction).
- Research in the fields of molecular biology, genetics, and biotechnology focusing on the structure and function of genes and proteins.
Nucleic acids are also of great importance in the field of food. Thanks to genetic engineering, it is possible to increase plants’ resistance to disease, optimizing food production and reducing the chances of food crises linked to pests for crops.
What are the main techniques that have been used for studying nucleic acids?
In the field of genomics and biotechnology, many techniques are used for research and the application of nucleic acids. Some of them include the following:
- Electrophoresis: used to separate nucleic acid molecules according to their size and electrical charge.
- Hybridization: by binding a complementary DNA or RNA probe, this can detect the presence of specific nucleic acid sequences.
- Molecular cloning: creates identical copies of a DNA fragment, which can be studied and handled in the laboratory.
- DNA sequencing: this makes it possible to determine the exact order of the nitrogenous bases in a DNA molecule.
- Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR): used to amplify a specific region of DNA that’s of interest, producing millions of copies in a short period of time.