Nucleic Acid Functions

By Jacquelyn Jeanty; Updated April 24, 2017
Nucleic Acid Functions

The human body is made up of millions of cells that work to maintain the body's overall system and function. Each cell, in turn, has its own set of processes designed to carry out necessary cell functions. Nucleic acid plays an essential role in coordinating and maintaining individual cell processes throughout the body.


Nucleic acid is the chemical compounds that make up a cell's genetic information. Deoxribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA) are the most common forms. The DNA double-helix strands and RNA strands are connected to structural units, or molecules called nucleotides. The sequence in which nucleotides are positioned on a DNA/RNA strand determines what code a nucleic acid holds. Each of these structural units contains a sugar, a phosphate group and a base material. Both DNA and RNA combine with protein materials to carry out cell division and cell repair processes.


Cell repair and cell reproduction processes are encoded within the structural make-up of nucleic acids. DNA strands are responsible for maintaining the cell's genetic information, while RNA strands work to coordinate cell processes according to these genetic instructions. RNA molecules are also involved in manufacturing the proteins needed by the cell for normal function. In order to coordinate all of these processes, the RNA nucleic acids reside in the cytoplasm that surrounds the nucleus, while DNA strands are located in the nucleus of the cell.


The process of cell division requires the DNA nucleic acid to replicate itself in order to reproduce daughter cells. Daughter cells are identical in structure to the parent cell. This process requires the parent cell to split, or break the bonds which connect the strands. Once broken, each strand can serve as a template, or guideline for the making of a new set of strands. This process is called semi-conservative replication. Once completed, an identical DNA helix is formed.


Transcription is the process in which DNA nucleic acids transfer the cell's genetic information into RNA materials. In essence, each DNA strand manufactures a corresponding RNA strand. Three types of RNA are manufactured within this process. Messenger RNAs (mRNA) are designed to carry the genetic information received from the DNA strands. Ribosomal RNAs (rRNA) reside in the cell's cytoplasm, and are responsible for decoding, or translating the genetic instructions into cell processes. Transfer RNAs (tRNA) are responsible for gathering whatever amino acids are needed for protein synthesis.


Translation is the process in which RNA molecules create the proteins needed to sustain necessary cell functions. This is accomplished by converting the genetic code contained in the messenger RNAs into amino acid strings, which is what make protein molecules. This conversion process takes place within the ribosomes, which are located in the cell's cytoplasm. The proteins manufactured by ribosomes are then used to manufacture cell enzymes, the chemicals responsible for regulating cell processes.

About the Author

Jacquelyn Jeanty has worked as a freelance writer since 2008. Her work appears at various websites. Her specialty areas include health, home and garden, Christianity and personal development. Jeanty holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Purdue University.