Nucleic acids are biological molecules essential for life, and include DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and RNA (ribonucleic acid). Together with proteins, nucleic acids make up the most important macromolecules; each is found in abundance in all living things. Nucleic acids were first discovered by Friedrich Miescher in 1871. Experimental studies of nucleic acids constitute a major part of modern biological and medical research, and form a foundation for genome and forensic science, as well as the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries.
Occurrence and nomenclature [
The term nucleic acid is the over all name for DNA and RNA, members of a family of biopolymers, and is synonymous with polynucleotide. Nucleic acids were named for their initial discovery within the cell nucleus, and for the presence of phosphate groups (related to phosphoric acid). Although first discovered within the nucleus of eukaryotic cells, nucleic acids are now know to be found in all life forms, including within bacteria, archaea, mitochondria, chloroplasts, viruses and viroids. All living cells and organelles contain both DNA and RNA, while viruses contain either DNA or RNA, but not usually both. The basic component of biological nucleic acids is the nucleotide, each of which contains a pentose sugar (ribose or deoxyribose), a phosphate group, and a nucleobase. Nucleic acids are also generated within the laboratory, through the use of enzymes (DNA and RNA polymerases) and by solid-phase chemical synthesis. The chemical methods also enable the generation of altered nucleic acids that are not found in nature, for example peptide nucleic acids.
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