Cells, and the larger organisms they comprise, require proteins for numerous functions. It is the responsibility of the ribonucleic acid (RNA) to facilitate the synthesis of these proteins. To carry out this process, there are three types of RNA: messenger RNA, ribosomal RNA and transfer RNA. It is the transfer RNA that is responsible for delivering the correct amino acids to the translation site.
The Three Types of RNA
Messenger RNA (mRNA) functions as the blueprint for protein synthesis, and directs the process. Ribosomal RNA (rRNA) functions as the factory, providing the structure for the synthesis process and performing the bonding work. Transfer RNA (tRNA) functions as the delivery vehicle, collecting and dropping off the correct amino acids to the factory, or translation site.
The cell's deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) contains all the genetic material of the cell, comprised of segments called genes. Each DNA gene contains the instructions for producing one specific protein. Messenger RNA is a copy of one section, or gene, of DNA. This mRNA contains triplets of nucleotides, called codons. Each of these codons represents one amino acid.
Ribosomal RNA (rRNA) binds with a protein to form a ribosome. The ribosome serves as the stabilizing structure during the protein syntheses process. The rRNA also carries the enzymes required to bond the amino acids together. The rRNA attaches to the strand of mRNA, moving along like a zipper as it binds the amino acids together. Multiple mRNAs can be attached and working simultaneously at different points along the mRNA strand.
There is at least one tRNA for each type of amino acid. The tRNA is relatively small and resembles the configuration of a clover leaf. Each tRNA has a nucleotide triplet, called an anticodon. This anticodon is the opposite match for one codon on the mRNA. The tRNA also carries the corresponding amino acid for its anticodon. The tRNA is responsible for delivering the correct amino acid to the rRNA, where it is fused together -- ultimately creating the protein.
The Protein Synthesis Process
The mRNA is produced in the nucleus of the cell. When the cell determines that the given mRNA's protein is needed, the mRNA is moved out into the cell's cytoplasm. The mRNA meets up with a ribosome, where they attach together to form the site of the protein synthesis. The tRNA move about the cytoplasm picking up the amino acid that corresponds to their anticodon and transporting it to the ribosome. The tRNA read the mRNA, attempting to find a corresponding match between their specific anticodons and the next codon on the mRNA. When a match is made, the matching tRNA releases its amino acid to the rRNA. The rRNA then bonds the amino acid, representing the next link in the protein sequence, to the growing string of amino acids. Once the entire sequence of amino acids has been assembled, the protein synthesis is complete.
- Creative Chemistry; The Three Types of RNA; N. Saunders, Ph.D.
- Virtual Chembook: RNA Types
- Kimbball's Biology Pages; Transcription; John W. Kimball, Ph.D.
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: DNA to RNA to Protein
- "Molecular Biology of the Cell;" From DNA to RNA; B. Alberts, et al.; 2002
- "Molecular Cell Biology;" The Three Roles of RNA in Protein Synthesis; H. Lodish, et al.; 2000
- Photo Credit Chad Baker/Photodisc/Getty Images
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