How Many Codons Are There In The 3-Base Genetic Code Crick’s Central Dogma of Molecular Biology – DNA to RNA to Protein

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Crick’s Central Dogma of Molecular Biology – DNA to RNA to Protein

The idea that each organism has a unique genetic code that is passed on to future generations was hypothesized long before the actual mechanisms, or indeed the origin, of such hereditary information were agreed upon. After Mendel (1857) showed that phenotypic characteristics can be transferred from parent to offspring, Fred Griffith began in 1928 to find evidence that the molecule responsible for preserving and transmitting this information is DNA. This was later confirmed by experiments carried out by Avery and (later) by Hershey & Chase, which proved that DNA is indeed the arsenal of hereditary information. From this affirmation and the knowledge that RNA is the immediate precursor of protein, Francis Crick proposed in a 1954 paper – and stated again in 1970 – forming a flow diagram that became known which is the central dogma of molecular biology: DNA to RNA to Protein.

The central dogma is a framework that outlines the transfer of sequential information from being stored as DNA to expressing that information as a functional entity as a protein. Most importantly, it dictates that information can only flow from nucleic acid to protein, and not from protein to nucleic acid ie that “once (sequential) information is transmitted to the protein it cannot be retrieved (FHC Crick, 1958). At the time of printing, all evidence suggested that this transfer or flow of information occurred linearly, although modern advances in molecular biology and genetics have shown that this idea is too simplistic.

The interrelationship between these three important molecules may be more complex than once thought, although the essential concept remains true. All organisms (except some viruses, which use RNA) use DNA as a storage facility for their genetic information. This information, which is actually the triplet base pair codons, is then used in a template that is faithfully transcribed into an intermediate RNA. Once transcription is complete, the ribosome can translate it into the corresponding amino acid sequence that codes for the synthesis of a functional protein. The dogma states that DNA directs organismal development and that protein formation ultimately depends on DNA sequence. In addition, the concept is also important because it emphasizes that the information contained in DNA must first depend on RNA for transport. Importantly, it points to the protein as the product of gene expression, an idea that is now understood thanks to the successful mapping of the genome.

Modern discoveries emphasize that the flow of genetic information is more dynamic. For example, some RNA does not code for protein and instead is destined to remain as an RNA nucleotide. This type of RNA is known as functional or ncRNA – ie non-coding – like tRNA and rRNA. In addition, ribozymes can act as catalysts, performing their own ‘protein’ functions without completing the sequential route to the protein. Another modern extension of the dogma is that RNA can also act as a template for DNA synthesis. This process is known as reverse transcription which uses the enzyme reverse transcriptase and has been shown to exist in retroviruses. These findings are important for the development of the theory because they confirm Crick’s postulations that RNA can turn into DNA and further expand our understanding of the central concept.

The importance of the central dogma as a concept is perhaps best illustrated, somewhat paradoxically, by a discovery that directly challenges it. In his original statements, Crick clearly stated that ‘transition from protein to protein’ was impossible. It is now widely accepted that the infectious proteins known as prions, which were previously considered viral in nature, are produced directly from the protein by triggering abnormal synthesis from its native form. This initially sparked many papers postulating counter theories, based on the assumption that protein self-replication violates the central dogma. It is clear from these actions that the central dogma has a core meaning that has evolved beyond the actual statements of Crick’s original paper. Scientific discovery in every field is motivated by the desire to find simple, underlying theories that can explain the many complexities of their endeavors in an uncomplicated theoretical framework. We know that DNA is the root of our inherited information and we know that the functional units that make life possible are proteins. Despite needing some fine-tuning, Crick’s version of the central dogma certainly lays such a foundation, providing biologists with a central concept to orient and structure the environment.

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