In the previous chapter, you have learnt the inheritance patterns and the genetic basis of such patterns. At the time of Mendel, the nature of those ‘factors’ regulating the pattern of inheritance was not clear.
Over the next hundred years, the nature of the putative genetic material was investigated culminating in the realisation that DNA – deoxyribonucleic acid – is the genetic material, at least for the majority of organisms.
In class XI you have learnt that nucleic acids are polymers of nucleotides. Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA) are the two types of nucleic acids found in living systems. DNA acts as the genetic material in most of the organisms. RNA though it also acts as a genetic material in some viruses, mostly functions as a messenger.
RNA has additional roles as well. It functions as adapter, structural, and in some cases as a catalytic molecule. In Class XI you have already learnt the structures of nucleotides and the way these monomer units are linked to form nucleic acid polymers.
In this chapter we are going to discuss the structure of DNA, its replication, the process of making RNA from DNA (transcription), the genetic code that determines the sequences of amino acids in proteins, the process of protein synthesis (translation) and elementary basis of their regulation.
The determination of complete nucleotide sequence of human genome during last decade has set in a new era of genomics. In the last section, the essentials of human genome sequencing and its consequences will also be discussed. Let us begin our discussion by first understanding the structure of the most interesting molecule in the living system, that is, the DNA. In subsequent sections, we will understand that why it is the most abundant genetic material, and what its relationship is with RNA.