Nucleic acids are biopolymers, or large biomolecules, essential for all known forms of life. Nucleic acids, which include DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and RNA (ribonucleic acid), are made from monomers known as nucleotides. Each nucleotide has three components: a 5-carbon sugar, a phosphate group, and a nitrogenous base. If the sugar is deoxyribose, the polymer is DNA. If the sugar is ribose, the polymer is RNA. When sugar and a nitrogenous base get combined they form a nucleotide. Nucleotides are also known as phosphate nucleotides.
Nucleic acids are among the most important biological macromolecules (others being amino acids/proteins, sugars/carbohydrates, and lipids/fats). They are found in abundance in all living things, where they function in encoding, transmitting and expressing genetic information—in other words, information is conveyed through the nucleic acid sequence, or the order of nucleotides within a DNA or RNA molecule. Strings of nucleotides strung together in a specific sequence are the mechanism for storing and transmitting hereditary, or genetic information via protein synthesis.
Nucleic acids were discovered by Friedrich Miescher in 1869. Experimental studies of nucleic acids constitute a major part of modern biological and medical research, and form a foundation for genome and forensic science, as well as the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries.
==Occurrence and nomenclature==
The term ''nucleic acid'' is the overall name for DNA and RNA, members of a family of biopolymers, and is synonymous with ''polynucleotide''. Nucleic acids were named for their initial discovery within the nucleus, and for the presence of phosphate groups (related to phosphoric acid). Although first discovered within the nucleus of eukaryotic cells, nucleic acids are now known to be found in all life forms including within bacteria, archaea, mitochondria, chloroplasts, viruses, and viroids. (note: there is debate as to whether viruses are living or non-living). All living cells contain both DNA and RNA (except some cells such as mature red blood cells), while viruses contain either DNA or RNA, but usually not both.
The basic component of biological nucleic acids is the nucleotide, each of which contains a pentose sugar (ribose or deoxyribose), a phosphate group, and a nucleobase.
Nucleic acids are also generated within the laboratory, through the use of enzymes〔Mullis, Kary B. The Polymerase Chain Reaction (Nobel Lecture). 1993. (retrieved December 1, 2010) http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/chemistry/laureates/1993/mullis-lecture.html〕 (DNA and RNA polymerases) and by solid-phase chemical synthesis. The chemical methods also enable the generation of altered nucleic acids that are not found in nature, for example peptide nucleic acids.
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