DNA double helix. A. Molecular model of DNA. The molecules include (1) hydrogen, (2) oxygen (3) …—© Merriam-Webster Inc.

One of two types of nucleic acid (the other is RNA); a complex organic compound found in all living cells and many viruses. It is the chemical substance of genes. Its structure, with two strands wound around each other in a double helix to resemble a twisted ladder, was first described (1953) by Francis Crick and James D. Watson. Each strand is a long chain (polymer) of repeating nucleotides: adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), and thymine (T). The two strands contain complementary information: A forms hydrogen bonds (see hydrogen bonding) only with T, C only with G. When DNA is copied in the cell, the strands separate and each serves as a template for assembling a new complementary strand; this is the key to stable heredity. DNA in cells is organized into dense protein-DNA complexes (see nucleoprotein) called chromosomes. In eukaryotes these are in the nucleus, and DNA also occurs in mitochondria and chloroplasts (if any). Prokaryotes have a single circular chromosome in the cytoplasm. Some prokaryotes and a few eukaryotes have DNA outside the chromosomes in plasmids. See also Rosalind Franklin; genetic engineering; mutation; Maurice Wilkins.

Variants of DNA

DNA or deoxyribonucleic acid

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