DNA replication is the process of copying a double-stranded DNA molecule to form two double-stranded molecules. The process of DNA replication is a fundamental process used by all living organisms as it is the basis for biological inheritance. As each DNA strand holds the same genetic information, both strands can serve as templates for the reproduction of the complementary strand. The template strand is preserved in its entirety and the new strand is assembled from nucleotides. This process is called "semiconservative replication". The resulting double-stranded DNA molecules are identical; proofreading and error-checking mechanisms exist to ensure near perfect fidelity. ¤ In a cell, DNA replication must happen before cell division can occur. DNA synthesis begins at specific locations in the genome, called "origins", where the two strands of DNA are separated. RNA primers attach to single stranded DNA and the enzyme DNA polymerase extends the primers to form new strands of DNA, adding nucleotides matched to the template strand. The unwinding of DNA and synthesis of new strands forms a replication fork. In addition to DNA polymerase, a number of other proteins are associated with the fork and assist in the initiation and continuation of DNA synthesis.
DNA replication can also be performed artificially, using the same enzymes used within the cell. DNA polymerases and artificial DNA primers are used to initiate DNA synthesis at known sequences in a template molecule. The polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a common laboratory technique, employs artificial synthesis in a cyclic manner to rapidly and specifically amplify a target DNA fragment from a pool of DNA.
DNA repair refers to a collection of processes by which a cell identifies and corrects damage to the DNA molecules that encode its genome. In human cells, both normal metabolic activities and environmental factors such as UV light and Radiation can cause DNA damage, resulting in as many as 1 million individual molecular lesions per cell per day. Many of these lesions cause structural damage to the DNA molecule and can alter or eliminate the cell's ability to transcribe the gene that the affected DNA encodes. Other lesions induce potentially harmful mutations in the cell's genome, which affect the survival of its daughter cells after it undergoes mitosis. Consequently, the DNA repair process is constantly active as it responds to damage in the DNA structure.
The rate of DNA repair is dependent on many factors, including the cell type, the age of the cell, and the extracellular environment. A cell that has accumulated a large amount of DNA damage, or one that no longer effectively repairs damage incurred to its DNA, can enter one of three possible states:
- an irreversible state of dormancy, known as senescence
- cell suicide, also known as apoptosis or programmed cell death
- unregulated cell division, which can lead to the formation of a tumor that is cancerous
The DNA repair ability of a cell is vital to the integrity of its genome and thus to its normal functioning and that of the organism. Many genes that were initially shown to influence lifespan have turned out to be involved in DNA damage repair and protection. Failure to correct molecular lesions in cells that form gametes can introduce mutations into the genomes of the offspring and thus influence the rate of evolution.
For More Information: DNA K-12 Experiments & Background Information
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