- 1: any of various nucleic acids that contain ribose and uracil as structural components and are associated with the control of cellular chemical activities
Ribonucleic acid /raɪbɵ.njuːˌkleɪ.ɨk ˈæsɪd/, or RNA, is part of a group of molecules known as the nucleic acids, which are one of the four major macromolecules (along with lipids, carbohydrates and proteins) essential for all known forms of life. Like DNA, RNA is made up of a long chain of components called nucleotides. Each nucleotide consists of a nucleobase, a ribose sugar, and a phosphate group. The sequence of nucleotides allows RNA to encode genetic information. All cellular organisms use messenger RNA (mRNA) to carry the genetic information that directs the synthesis of proteins. In addition, many viruses use RNA instead of DNA as their genetic material.
Some RNA molecules play an active role in cells by catalyzing biological reactions, controlling gene expression, or sensing and communicating responses to cellular signals. One of these active processes is protein synthesis, a universal function whereby mRNA molecules direct the assembly of proteins on ribosomes. This process uses transfer RNA (tRNA) molecules to deliver amino acids to the ribosome, where ribosomal RNA (rRNA) links amino acids together to form proteins.
The chemical structure of RNA is very similar to that of DNA, with two differences: (a) RNA contains the sugar ribose, while DNA contains the slightly different sugar deoxyribose (a type of ribose that lacks one oxygen atom), and (b) RNA has the nucleobase uracil while DNA contains thymine. Unlike DNA, most RNA molecules are single-stranded and can adopt very complex three-dimensional structures.