DNA replication, the basis for biological inheritance, is a fundamental process that occurs in all living organisms that copies their DNA. This process is "replication" in that each strand of the original double-stranded DNA molecule serves as template for the reproduction of the complementary strand. Therefore, following DNA replication, two identical DNA molecules have been produced from a single double-stranded DNA molecule. Cellular proofreading and error toe-checking mechanisms ensure near perfect fidelity for DNA replication.
In a cell, DNA replication begins at specific locations in the genome, called "origins". Unwinding of DNA at the origin, and synthesis of new strands, forms a replication fork. In addition to DNA polymerase, the enzyme that synthesizes the new DNA by adding nucleotides matched to the template strand, a number of other proteins are associated with the fork and assist in the initiation and continuation of DNA synthesis.
DNA replication can also be performed in vitro (outside a cell). DNA polymerases, isolated from cells, and artificial DNA primers are used to initiate DNA synthesis at known sequences in a template molecule. The polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a common laboratory technique, employs such artificial synthesis in a cyclic manner to amplify a specific target DNA fragment from a pool of DNA.
DNA usually exists as a double-stranded structure, with both strands coiled together to form the characteristic double-helix. Each single strand of DNA is a chain of four types of nucleotides: adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine. A nucleotide is a mono-, di- or triphosphate deoxyribonucleoside; that is, a deoxyribose sugar is attached to one, two or three phosphates. Chemical interaction of these nucleotides forms phosphodiester linkages, creating the phosphate-deoxribose backbone of the DNA double helix with the bases pointing inward. Nucleotides (bases) are matched between strands through hydrogen bonds to form base pairs. Adenine pairs with thymine and cytosine pairs with guanine.
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