How are proteins synthesied from DNA?

The video above is a really good animation to help you visualise what is happening 100 trillion times per second in your body. The process can be split into two main parts; transcription and translation, which are summarised below.



  1. DNA-helicase unzips the DNA, exposing it.
  2. The exposed base sequence is used as a template for free RNA nucleotides. Activated RNA nucleotides (ones with 2 extra phosphoryl groups)  temporarily hydrogen bond onto the template strand of DNA (leaving the coding strand unchanged). RNA polymerase catalyses this reaction, and the extra phosphoryl groups are released, producing energy for the bonding of adjacent nucleotides.
  3. The mRNA, which is a copy of the coding strand (with T replaced by U), passes out of the nucleus, via a pore in the nuclear envelope, to a ribosome.



  1. The mRNA molecule binds with a ribosome. Two codons are attatched to the smaller subunit of the ribosome, and are therefore exposed to the larger subunit. The first codon is always AUG, and so a tRNA molecule with anticodon UAC and amino acid mathionine hydrogen bonds to the codon.
  2. A second tRNA molecule with a different amino acid and complementary anticodon binds to the second codon.
  3. The two adjacent amino acids are joined together by a peptide bond, the reaction being catalysed by an enzyme in the small ribosomal subunit.
  4. The ribosome moves along the mRNA, and a third tRNA molecule brings another amino acid, whoch forms a peptide bond with the dipeptide. The first tRNA is then released to bring another amino acid to the ribosome.
  5. The polypeptide chain continues to grow in this way until a stop codon is reached. The stop codon works because there is no tRNA for the codons UAA, UAC or UGA.
  6. The polypeptide is released and assumes its secondary and tertiary structure.

Everything You Need To Know About Nucleic Acids

These are my AS Biology revision notes on nucleic acids – it’s everything you need to know if you’re following OCR’s syllabus 🙂

  • DNA is a polynucleotide, usually double-stranded, made up of nucleotides containing the bases adenine, thymine, cytosine and guanine. It’s stable and acts as an information store as the bases act as a coded sequence.
  • RNA is a polynucleotide, usually single-stranded, made up of nucleotides containing the bases adenine, uracil, cytosine and guanine.
  • Almost all DNA in a eukaryotic cell is found in the nucleus where it acts as an information store. RNA is found in three different forms needed to read and translate the information to produce the various proteins in an organism.
  • The monomer of all nucleic acids is called a nucleotide. Each nucleotide is made from one phosphate group, one sugar molecule and one organic nitrogenous base. These three subunits are joined by condensation reactions resulting in covalent bonds.

  • The phosphate group is always the same. The sugar molecule is a five carbon sugar – either ribose or deoxyribose.
  • A condensation reaction between the phosphate group of one nucleotide and the sugar of another nucleotide, forming a long chain of nucleotides. This repeating sugar-phosphate chain is the ‘backbone’ of the molecule and the organic bases project out from this backbone.
  • Chains of nucleotides are called nucleic acids. Only nucleotides carrying the same sugar bind together so if the sugar is ribose it’s RNA, if it’s deoxyribose then it’s DNA.
  • The organic bases are either purines (larger) or pyrimidines (smaller).The purines are adenine and guanine. The pyrimidines are thymine, cytosine and uracil.
  • Uric acid is produced when excess purines are broken down in the liver. It’s insoluble at low temperatures and forms crystals that are deposited in joints at the extremities causing gout.
  • The chain of nucleotide monomers is called a polynucleotide. When two polynucleotides come together a DNA molecule is formed. Hydrogen bonds between the base pairs in opposite chains strengthening the molecule. This is vital as it carries the instructions to make an organism.

  • The two DNA strands run parallel to each other as the space between is taken up by the nitrogenous bases projecting inwards. The term antiparallel is used as the strands run in opposite directions to each other – the sugars are pointing in opposite directions.
  • The chains are the same distances apart as the bases pair up in a specific way. If there is a purine on one chain, opposite there will be a pyrimidines on the other chain. Adenine always pairs with Thymine (or uracil in RNA) and Guanine always pairs with Cytosine. Hydrogen bonds form between the bases. Base pairing rules apply due to the different structure of the bases. The base pairing is described as complementary, so A is complementary to T, and G is complementary to C.
  • In a complete DNA molecule, the antiparallel chains twist to form the final structure called a double helix.
  • When a cell divides, the new cell must receive a full copy of the DNA for that organism and this must occur precisely. DNA replication takes place in the interphase of the cell cycle and is the process that creates identical sister chromatids.
  • In order to make a new copy of a DNA molecule, the double helix is untwisted and the hydrogen bonds between the bases are broken apart, exposing the bases.  Free DNA nucleotides are hydrogen-bonded onto the exposed bases according to the base-pairing rules. Covalent bonds are formed between the phosphate of one nucleotide and the sugar of the next to seal the backbone.  This continues along the whole molecule producing two new DNA molecules, both an exact copy of the original due to the base pairing rules.
  • This process of DNA replication is described as semi-conservative replication as each new DNA molecule consists of one conserved strand and one newly built strand
  • The sequence of bases is information storage – it’s in the form of a code to build proteins. As the molecules are long a lot of information can be stored. The base pairing means complementary strands of information can be replicated. The double helix gives the molecule stability. Hydrogen bonds allow easy ‘unzipping’ for copying and reading information.
  • RNA is structurally different from DNA as the sugar molecule in the nucleotides is ribose instead of deoxyribose. The nitrogenous base uracil is found instead of the organic base thymine.  The polynucleotide chain is usually single-stranded. There are three forms of the RNA molecule.
  • Base-pairing rules mean molecules of RNA can be made so they are complementary to molecules of DNA. This is because exposed nucleotides can have free RNA nucleotides hydrogen-bonded to them and then the sugar-phosphate backbone is sealed to form a chain of RNA nucleotides.

  • Copying the genetic code of the DNA base sequence is called transcription.
  • Messenger RNA (mRNA): made as a strand complementary to one strand of a DNA molecule (template molecule) making it a copy of the other DNA strand (coding strand) of the double-helix.
  • Ribosomal RNA (rRNA): found in ribosomes.
  • Transfer RNA (tRNA): carries amino acids to the ribosomes where they are bonded together to form polynucleotides.


  • A gene is a length of DNA that codes for one (or more) polypeptides. Each gene occupies a specific place (locus) on a chromosome. Different versions of the same gene are called alleles.
  • The sequence of bases in DNA code for the sequence of amino acids for a particular protein molecule. This gene can be exposed by splitting the hydrogen bonds that hold the double helix together in that region. RNA nucleotides form the complementary strand mRNA which is a copy of the gene. The mRNA peels away from the DNA and leaves the nucleus through a nuclear pore before attaching to a ribosome. tRNA molecules bring amino acids to the ribosome in the correct order according to the base sequence on the mRNA. The amino acids are joined together by peptide bonds to give a protein with a specific primary structure (which gives rise to the secondary and tertiary structures).