Discussion Assignment #6

The Secret to Life

No, it's not "42."

In 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick published a little paper in the journal Nature in which they revealed the chemical structure of a molecular called DNA. They finished off this enormously important paper with the rather coy sentence, "It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material."

This sentence is an allusion to the fact that the replication strategy for DNA is intrinsic to its structure--specifically in the complementary base pairing that holds the two polynucleotide strands of DNA together.

It turns out that they were even more prophetic than they thought. In fact, everything that is accomplished by DNA and its close relative, RNA, is accomplished because of complementary base pairing. Considering the roles played by DNA and RNA in all known life forms, I think this qualifies this feature of their structures as the ultimate Secret to Life.

Your assignment this week is to explore complementary base pairing and its significance in the processes in which DNA and RNA are involved. Those three processes are DNA replication, transcription, and translation.

Your explorations of these processes for this discussion assignment need to focus on the role of base pairing. You are not simply being asked to describe or explain the processes.

How is complementary base pairing important in the process of DNA replication?

How does complementary base pairing figure into transcription?

In what way does complementary base pairing make translation possible?

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