The Central Dogma of Molecular Biology: Decoding DNA into Proteins

The central dogma of molecular biology is a fundamental concept describing the transfer of genetic information within living cells. Established by Francis Crick in 1958, it outlines the unidirectional flow of information from DNA to RNA and ultimately to protein. 

The Flow of Genetic Information

The central dogma can be broken down into these key steps:

  • DNA Replication: DNA, the genetic material, stores the instructions for protein synthesis. During cell division, DNA is precisely copied through a process called semi-conservative replication. This ensures each new cell inherits an identical copy of the parental DNA.
  • Transcription: Specific regions of DNA, known as genes, encode the blueprints for protein building. In transcription, RNA polymerase enzymes utilize a DNA template to synthesize a single-stranded RNA molecule called messenger RNA (mRNA). mRNA acts as a complementary copy of the gene sequence, with uracil (U) replacing thymine (T) to pair with adenine (A).
  • Translation: mRNA carries the genetic information from the nucleus to the cytoplasm, where protein synthesis occurs at ribosomes. Transfer RNA (tRNA) molecules act as interpreters, each carrying an anticodon that recognizes a specific codon (triplet of nucleotides) on the mRNA. Each tRNA is also linked to a specific amino acid. Based on the mRNA codons, tRNAs deliver the corresponding amino acids to the ribosome, where they are sequentially linked by peptide bonds to form a polypeptide chain.
  • Post-translational Modifications: Newly synthesized polypeptides often undergo further processing, such as folding, cleavage, and addition of chemical groups, to become functional proteins.

Central Dogma of Molecular Biochemistry with Enzymes

The Impact of Mutations on Gene Expression

Mutations, which are alterations in the DNA sequence, can significantly affect gene expression. Here are some examples:

  • Missense Mutations: A single nucleotide change within a coding region can lead to a missense mutation. This alters the codon, resulting in the incorporation of an incorrect amino acid into the protein. Depending on the change, this can disrupt protein function or render it completely nonfunctional.
  • Nonsense Mutations: A nonsense mutation occurs when a stop codon (codon that terminates translation) is introduced prematurely within a coding sequence. This leads to a truncated protein, which is often nonfunctional due to its incomplete structure.
  • Frameshift Mutations: Insertions or deletions of nucleotides that are not multiples of three nucleotides cause frameshift mutations. These mutations shift the reading frame of the mRNA, leading to the incorporation of entirely incorrect amino acids downstream from the mutation site. Frameshift mutations typically have a severe impact on protein function.
  • Regulatory Mutations: Mutations can occur in non-coding regions of DNA that regulate gene expression. These mutations can alter the binding sites of transcription factors, thereby affecting the rate of mRNA production and ultimately protein synthesis.

Understanding how mutations impact the central dogma is crucial in various fields, including disease diagnosis, personalized medicine, and drug development.

The mutations and mutation effects on gene expression/regulation. The surrounding genes annotated as upstream or downstream gene variant type by whole-genome sequencing are also shown here, with their directions on the genome. Mutation in rssB (A) caused the translational stop codon (TGA) to move forward, with a deletion of a total of 93 amino acids from the 245th position of RssB. Mutations in yqhA (B), intergenic region of yqhC-yqhD (C), and basR (D) resulted in missense variants. △ denotes deletion, and AA denotes amino acid

Future Considerations:

While the central dogma provides a foundational framework for understanding gene expression, it's important to acknowledge recent discoveries that have expanded our understanding. For instance, the existence of reverse transcriptase enzymes, which can synthesize DNA from an RNA template, challenges the dogma's strict unidirectional flow of information. Furthermore, the field of RNA epigenetics explores how modifications to RNA molecules can influence gene expression without altering the underlying DNA sequence.

In conclusion, the central dogma of molecular biology serves as a cornerstone for understanding the flow of genetic information from DNA to protein. Mutations can significantly impact gene expression by altering protein structure or function. As research continues to reveal new complexities, the central dogma remains a valuable framework for comprehending the intricate relationship between genes and proteins.

To learn more, watch this video.

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The Central Dogma of Molecular Biology: Decoding DNA into Proteins
Gen store May 28, 2024
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