RNA- Structure, Types, Function and Applications

RNA (Ribonucleic acid)

Ribonucleic acid, commonly known as RNA, is a single-stranded nucleic acid molecule that plays a key role in protein synthesis and other important cellular processes. RNA is a polymer made up of small building blocks called nucleotides, which are composed of a sugar molecule, a nitrogenous base, and a phosphate group.

RNA Structure

Structure of RNA

RNA is composed of nucleotides, each of which comprises a nitrogenous base, a five-carbon sugar molecule, and a phosphate group. The nitrogenous bases in RNA are adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), and uracil (U). The sugar molecule in RNA is ribose, which has an additional hydroxyl group (-OH) compared to deoxyribose, the sugar found in DNA. The nucleotides in RNA are linked by phosphodiester bonds, which connect the 3′ carbon of one nucleotide to the 5′ carbon of the next nucleotide. RNA is single-stranded, but in some cases, it can form complex secondary structures, such as hairpins or loops, due to the complementary base pairing of nucleotides within the same strand.

Figure: (a) Ribonucleotides contain the pentose sugar ribose instead of the deoxyribose found in deoxyribonucleotides. (b) RNA contains the pyrimidine uracil in place of thymine found in DNA.

Function of RNA

RNA plays a variety of essential roles in cellular processes, including protein synthesis, gene regulation, and information transfer. In protein synthesis, RNA serves as an intermediate between DNA and proteins. DNA contains the genetic information that encodes the sequence of amino acids in a protein, but it cannot directly interact with ribosomes, the cellular machinery that synthesizes proteins. RNA, on the other hand, can interact with ribosomes and carry the genetic code from DNA to the ribosomes, where proteins are synthesized. The process of protein synthesis involves three main types of RNA: messenger RNA (mRNA), transfer RNA (tRNA), and ribosomal RNA (rRNA).

mRNA carries the genetic information from DNA to the ribosomes, where it is translated into a sequence of amino acids to form a protein. The sequence of nucleotides in mRNA is determined by the sequence of nucleotides in the DNA template, which is transcribed into mRNA by RNA polymerase enzymes. Once transcribed, mRNA leaves the nucleus and enters the cytoplasm, where it binds to ribosomes for translation.

tRNA plays a critical role in the translation process by carrying amino acids to the ribosome, where they are added to the growing protein chain. Each tRNA molecule has an anticodon sequence that is complementary to the codon sequence in the mRNA, allowing it to recognize and bind to the correct amino acid. The binding of tRNA to amino acids is catalyzed by aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases, which ensure that each tRNA molecule is correctly charged with the appropriate amino acid.

rRNA forms the structural and functional core of ribosomes, where it catalyzes the formation of peptide bonds between amino acids to assemble a protein. Ribosomes consist of two subunits, each of which contains rRNA and proteins. The smaller subunit binds to the mRNA, while the larger subunit catalyzes the formation of peptide bonds between amino acids.

In addition to its role in protein synthesis, RNA also plays a crucial role in gene regulation. Various types of non-coding RNA molecules, such as microRNA (miRNA), small interfering RNA (siRNA), and long non-coding RNA (lncRNA), regulate gene expression by binding to mRNA and blocking translation, initiating degradation, or promoting transcription by interacting with DNA or other proteins in the gene regulatory network.

Types of RNA


RNA can be classified into several categories based on their sequence, structure, and function. The major types of RNA are mRNA, tRNA, rRNA, and non-coding RNA (ncRNA).

  • mRNA carries genetic information from DNA to the ribosomes, where it is translated into a sequence of amino acids to form a protein. mRNA is synthesized by RNA polymerase enzymes, which transcribe the DNA template into mRNA. The process of transcription involves three main steps: initiation, elongation, and termination.
  • tRNA is a type of RNA that carries amino acids to the ribosome during protein synthesis. Each tRNA molecule has a specific anticodon sequence that recognizes and binds to a particular codon sequence in mRNA. tRNA is charged with amino acids by aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases, which ensure that the correct amino acid is added to the tRNA molecule.
  • rRNA is a structural component of ribosomes, where it catalyzes the formation of peptide bonds between amino acids to assemble a protein. rRNA is transcribed from DNA and undergoes various post-transcriptional modifications, such as methylation and pseudouridylation, to form functional ribosomes.
  • Non-coding RNA (ncRNA) does not encode proteins but plays crucial roles in gene regulation, chromatin remodeling, and RNA processing. ncRNA can be classified into several categories based on their size and function, including miRNA, siRNA, lncRNA, and small nucleolar RNA (snoRNA). miRNA and siRNA are involved in post-transcriptional regulation of gene expression, while lncRNA and snoRNA participate in a variety of biological processes, such as X chromosome inactivation, epigenetic regulation, and ribosome biogenesis.

Applications of RNA

  • RNA has a wide range of applications in various fields, including biotechnology, medicine, and genetics. RNA-based technologies have several advantages over conventional DNA-based technologies, such as faster turnover rates, greater specificity, and fewer ethical concerns.
  • RNA interference (RNAi) is a powerful tool for gene silencing and functional genomics. RNAi involves the delivery of small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) or short hairpin RNAs (shRNAs) to target cells, where they induce the degradation of mRNA and thereby inhibit gene expression. RNAi has various applications in drug discovery, gene therapy, and agriculture, among other fields.
  • RNA vaccines are a new type of vaccine that uses RNA molecules to stimulate an immune response against specific pathogens. RNA vaccines are fast and versatile, as they can be rapidly designed and synthesized to target emerging viral or bacterial threats. RNA vaccines have shown promising results in several clinical trials, including those for COVID-19.
  • RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) is a high-throughput technology that allows the quantification and characterization of RNA molecules in a sample. RNA-seq has revolutionized the field of transcriptomics, allowing researchers to study gene expression and alternative splicing in various biological systems.


RNA is a critical component of the cellular machinery that plays essential roles in protein synthesis, gene regulation, and information transfer. RNA can be classified into several categories based on their structure and function, including mRNA, tRNA, rRNA, and ncRNA. RNA-based technologies have vast applications in biotechnology, medicine, and genetics, ranging from gene therapy to vaccine development to transcriptomics. The development of RNA-based techniques and therapies has the potential to revolutionize biomedical research and improve human health.


  1. https://openstax.org/books/microbiology/pages/10-3-structure-and-function-of-rna
  2. https://www.genome.gov/genetics-glossary/RNA-Ribonucleic-Acid
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RNA

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