DNA-Directed Protein Synthesis
Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) directs the synthesis of the many thousands of proteins that are contained in the different cells of the body. Although some of the proteins are structural proteins, the majority are enzymes that catalyze the different chemical reactions in the cell. Because DNA is located in the cell’s nucleus and protein synthesis takes place in the cytoplasm, a second type of nucleic acid—ribonucleic acid (RNA)—participates in the actual assembly of the proteins.
There are three types of RNA: messenger RNA (mRNA), ribosomal RNA (rRNA), and transfer RNA (tRNA) that participate in (1) the transcription of the DNA instructions for protein synthesis and (2) the translation of those instructions into the assembly of the polypeptides that make up the various proteins.
The genetic code is a triplet of four bases (adenine [A], thymine [T], guanine [G], and cytosine [C], with thymine in DNA being replaced with uracil [U] in RNA) that control the sequence of amino acids in a protein molecule that is being synthesized. The triplet RNA code is called a codon.
Transcription involves copying the genetic code containing the instructions for protein synthesis from DNA to a complementary strand of mRNA. Transcription is initiated by an enzyme called RNA polymerase, which binds to a promoter site on DNA. Many other proteins, including transcription factors, function to increase or decrease transcriptional activity of the genes. After mRNA has been transcribed, it detaches from DNA and is processed by cutting, removing introns, and splicing the exon RNA sequences to produce a variety of mRNA molecules from a single gene. Once mRNA has been processed, it diffuses through the nuclear pores into the cytoplasm, where it controls protein synthesis.
The process of translation involves taking the instructions transcribed from DNA to mRNA and transferring them to the rRNA of ribosomes located in the cytoplasm. When the mRNA carrying the instructions for a particular protein comes in contact with a ribosome, it binds to a small subunit of the rRNA. It then travels through the ribosome where the transcribed instructions are communicated to the tRNA, which delivers and transfers the correct amino acid to its proper position on the growing peptide chain. There are 20 types of tRNA, one for each of the 20 different types of amino acid. Each type of tRNA carries an anticodon complementary to the mRNA codon calling for the amino acid carried by the tRNA, and it is the recognition of the mRNA codon by the tRNA anticodon that ensures the proper sequence of amino acids in a synthesized protein. In order to be functional, the newly synthesized protein must be folded into its functional form, modified further, and then routed to its final position in the cell.