How Are Protein & Nucleic Acids Related?

Proteins are important structural and functional biomolecules that are a major part of every cell in your body. There are 2 nucleic acids -- DNA and RNA. Your cells make proteins by following the instructions encoded in your DNA, which is genetic material and a type of nucleic acid. Other nucleic acids, various types of RNA, assist in the protein-production process.


Proteins are large biomolecules that consist of long chains of building block molecules called amino acids. There are 20 common amino acids, and proteins may be hundreds of amino acids long, allowing for enormous variety with regard to protein structure and function. Amino acids are made up mostly of the elements carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen, but they may also contain sulfur. Each assembled chain of amino acids folds in a specific way, producing a three-dimensional protein with a specific cellular function.

Nucleic Acids

There are two major classes of nucleic acids: DNA and RNA. DNA -- deoxyribonucleic acid-- contains genetic material arranged as genes that contain all the information an organism needs to function. RNA stands for ribonucleic acid, and there are several subtypes of RNA. DNA stores and transfers genetic information, while RNA delivers information from DNA to protein-builders in the cells.

Protein and Nucleic Acid Relationship

As molecules, proteins and nucleic acids are not similar in structure. They look nothing alike, either as large molecules or in terms of their building blocks. While they're both made up of mostly carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen, the elements are assembled in vastly different ways. The major relationship between the two has to do with protein production -- DNA contains the information that a cell uses, with the help of RNA, to make protein.

Protein Production

To make protein, a cell first transcribes genetic information from DNA onto a temporary template of RNA. This is because DNA stays in the nucleus of a cell, while protein-making machinery is outside the nucleus. The RNA template can leave the nucleus and carries with it the information to make protein, explain Drs. Mary Campbell and Shawn Farrell in their book "Biochemistry." Two additional types of RNA then interact with the template RNA to produce protein, building each strand one amino acid at a time, per instructions copied from DNA.

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